Getting to know the Veterinary Medicine Caucus: U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio

Congressman Peter DeFazio with his wife, Myrnie Daut, and their two dogs, Rusty, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, and Bilbo, a Newfoundland mix.

By: Valerie Goddard, staff assistant, Governmental Relations Division

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is in his 14th term in Congress and is now the longest serving House member in Oregon’s history. He is a ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee and is a senior member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He has cosponsored the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act and the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.

Q: What motivated you to join the veterinary caucus?

DeFazio: Personally, my wife and I are substantial consumers of veterinary care with two large dogs and a big cat. I’m often at the vet, and my vet often brings up concerns that she has regarding a wide range of issues related to veterinary care. Also, I represent one of the veterinary schools, a premier veterinary school in my opinion, in the United States – Oregon State University (OSU). It was added into my district with the last redistricting, so it’s very important to me to advocate for issues that are important to Oregon State and its students, including the veterinary school.

Q: What are some current issues that are important to you or that you have heard about from your constituents that relate to veterinary medicine?

DeFazio: Well, I’m a little bit in the shadow of Congressman Kurt Schrader, who’s obviously the expert in our delegation as an actual veterinarian, and I often follow Kurt’s lead on issues. I’ve had issues come up dealing with medicines, FDA issues as they relate to off-label use, things like that for veterinary medicine.

I’ve been working on student loan issues, which is very important to me. We have ongoing issues with every school in America, but at OSU, even though I believe it’s quite affordable by national standards, there are issues of affordability of the education, particularly for a state resident.

OSU is doing research which actually cross-references into homeland security. I served on the Homeland Security Committee from its inception until 2011, and there were issues that related both to the potential for an attack on livestock and/or people by those who would attempt to modify diseases by moving them from animals into the human population.  Those issues are still ongoing, and OSU is involved in some of that research. They’ve also done work on avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease and the West Nile virus. We actually had the West Nile virus come into Oregon a few years ago. So there are a lot of important issues that relate directly to the veterinary school or cross over into other disciplines that I’m interested in, specifically with regard to homeland security or the Centers for Disease Control and those sorts of things.

Q: Could you talk a little about the scholarships you have funded in Oregon and your motivation for them?

DeFazio: Actually, I was giving back congressional pay raises. We were running large deficits when I first came to Washington, and I said that I wouldn’t take pay raises. Shortly after I got here, however, Congress gave itself a big pay raise. At that point, I decided to just give the money to a fund to reduce the national debt, which is something a lot of people don’t know about, but there is one. After a few years, that started to seem a bit futile and I decided that I would instead create a scholarship program, which would be from the pay raises I wasn’t taking. I’ve been doing that now for over 20 years, and I’ve given back $363,000 of salary and 227 scholarships.

Higher education is one of the best predictors of people’s future earnings and productivity, and a lot of the people in Oregon are living in rural areas and other areas where it seems almost beyond reach to them. I decided that by creating a small scholarship program, I could help people that have been more tailored to a community college. I give two scholarships at each of the community colleges in my district – there are four in my district and one just outside of my district. I give 10 scholarships a year, and they’re need-based with an emphasis on people who are going to go into public service or other needed professions. I’ve had some heartwarming encounters with people who have received my scholarships, where it made a critical difference at a critical point in time where they had to decide if they could stay in school or not.

Q: What is something you would like AVMA members to know?

DeFazio: I always like to hear from people in the veterinary community about things that are impeding their work, things they think that the federal government could do better or maybe get out of the way and let them do. I’m open to communication from your association and your members and other folks in the community.

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