Student advocates

Veterinary students press Congress for student debt relief, horse soring ban
Published on April 03, 2013
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Dr. Lutschaunig
AVMA Governmental Relations Director Mark Lutschaunig encourages veterinary students to advocate on behalf of their profession.

Against a backdrop of partisan wrangling over the potential fallout of sequestration, scores of veterinary students gathered in Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of their profession and the animals they serve.

Sixty-five students from 23 veterinary schools participated in the 5th Annual AVMA/Student AVMA Legislative Visit March 4-5. Hosted by the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, the event is designed to encourage veterinary students to become politically engaged and to influence fellow students to also involve themselves in public policy and the legislative process.

Veterinary students pose with the congressional veterinary caucus: Reps. Ted Yoho of Florida (left) and Kurt Schrader of Oregon.

During the students’ first day in the capital, they learned why political apathy can threaten the practice of veterinary medicine. “The way it works in politics is if we don’t speak up about the issues we know and care about, then someone else will,” said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, GRD director.

Sixty-five veterinary students participated in the 5th Annual AVMA/Student AVMA Legislative Visit.

Laws and regulations governing the practice of veterinary medicine are not set in stone, Dr. Lutschaunig reminded the students, and highly motivated individuals can influence them in ways adverse to the profession.

Along with getting an overview of the federal legislative process, students were introduced to the ways the AVMA is politically engaged. These include advocacy not only through the GRD but also through the State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department, AVMA Political Action Committee, and a fellowship program that places veterinarians in congressional offices or with federal agencies as policy advisers.

Congressmen Kurt Schrader and Ted Yoho field questions from veterinary students.

“Before attending this year’s legislative fly-in, I was clueless as to what the AVMA does in Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of veterinarians,” said Katherine DeHaan, a second-year veterinary student at Colorado State University. “The GRD works extremely hard behind the scenes so that our best interests as veterinarians remain intact.”

On the final day of their visit, students fanned out across Capitol Hill to urge House members to amend the Horse Protection Act to ban the practice of soring and grant the Department of Agriculture more authority to enforce the law. They also encouraged senators and representatives to abolish the 39 percent tax on Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program rewards. The USDA program places veterinarians in underserved areas in exchange for student loan reimbursement. By eliminating the tax, the USDA could make additional awards without adding appropriations (see story).

But before students began lobbying, they met with Drs. Kurt Schrader and Ted Yoho. Dr. Schrader is a three-term Democrat from Oregon’s 5th district; Dr. Yoho is the newly elected Republican representing Florida’s 3rd district. Together, they are the de facto “veterinary caucus.” The congressmen spoke about the importance of staying involved in public service and being leaders in the veterinary field.

Idaho Sen. James Risch (left) and his deputy legislative director listen as Katherine DeHaan explains the value of the federal Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to graduates struggling to pay off student loans. DeHaan, an Idaho native, expects she’ll owe nearly $270,000 when she graduates from Colorado State University in two years.

Prior to participating in the legislative visit, Sara Smith was a newcomer to the world of politics. That’s no longer the case, however. “I had almost no political experience prior to this event, but the AVMA prepared us well for our meetings on Capitol Hill,” said Smith, a second-year veterinary student at North Carolina State University. “Regardless of their political preferences or knowledge, students should know this is a great event.”

Veterinary students interested in participating in the 2014 legislative visit should contact Stephanie Fisher, AVMA program manager and policy analyst, at sfisheratavma [dot] org.