Washington — The U.S. Senate slated $750,000 of its $17.3 billion agriculture appropriations bill to fund a slimmed down version of the National Veterinary Medical Services Act (NVMSA).
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate slated $750,000 of its $17.3 billion agriculture appropriations bill to fund a slimmed down version of the National Veterinary Medical Services Act (NVMSA).
Although a far cry from the $60-million act Congress originally passed, veterinary leaders are celebrating the addition of a pilot program as a line item in the Senate's appropriations measure. President Bush enacted NVMSA in 2003 to provide educational debt relief for DVMs practicing in the nation's underserved areas, but gaining funds for the program has proved a tough endeavor.
At presstime, House and Senate conferees had not yet been appointed to reconcile the agriculture budget during talks that likely will include discussion of the pilot program's merits. The House's $16.8 billion version of the appropriations measure does not include any mention of NVMSA.
That's a challenge, says Dr. Michael Chaddock, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Governmental Relations Division.
"We're working very hard to keep that money in the final document," Chaddock says. "It's a grassroots effort that centers around keeping in contact with members of Congress. We've got a lot more work to do; this is not a done deal."
But it's a start, says Dr. Ralph Richardson, dean of Kansas State University's veterinary college.
Considering the publicity surrounding the lack of rural and public health veterinarians in the United States, students have become increasingly attracted to those areas of the profession, he says.
"Just in the last week I had three students talk to me about advanced training in public practice," he says. "In our entering class next fall an unprecedented number of students say they plan to go into rural practice. There's definitely an increased interest in returning to rural America."
These students are equally concerned about debt relief, Richards adds.
"The (National) Veterinary Medical Services act is of intense interest to our veterinary students," he says. "All this talk about veterinary medicine serving the health and the security of our country has them excited. Now we need to help students do it financially."
Given the chance, Dr. John Thomson believes the success of the pilot program will lead to more permanent funding for NVMSA. As a founder of the initiative more than six years ago, Thomson's confident that once Congress recognizes the value of veterinarians as a first line of defense against bioterrorism, the federal government will provide full and lasting support for the plan.
"We just want to have the opportunity to demonstrate what veterinarians can do in these key areas of need," says Thomson, Iowa State University veterinary college dean. "I'm fairly optimistic that (Congress) will see this is a wise investment."
But Chaddock doesn't want anyone to get "too enthused" about the NVMSA's immediate financial success. Even if the program survives congressional haggling, it will take time before funds trickle down in the form of debt relief.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must first write the regulations associated with NVMSA and release them for public comment. While Chaddock and other veterinary leaders would like more policy-making control, the executive branch takes care of the details. And that won't happen without funding, he says.
"They have told us that until there's money for the program, there's no urgency to create the regulations," Chaddock says. "Now if we get the funding, we'll need to stimulate the Department of Agriculture to get them written. On the positive side, USDA sees this as a benefit for them. With this program, they can call up what amounts to a national guard of veterinarians."