There are many ways to impact policy in Congress – but sometimes, the best way is old-fashioned grassroots advocacy. More than 70 veterinary students and 20 veterinarians experienced that firsthand this week, traveling to Washington to advocate on behalf of veterinarians and veterinary medicine during the AVMA’s 9th annual Legislative Fly-in.
Was glad to welcome @AVMAvets to Capitol Hill this week and discuss important developments in veterinary medicine. #AVMAflyin pic.twitter.com/QeWjv57FHI — Rep. David Kustoff (@repdavidkustoff) April 26, 2017
“Members of Congress are tasked with making a lot of tough decisions that can impact the veterinary profession, but they don’t always have veterinarians on their staff who they can turn to for input,” said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division. “It’s really valuable for them to hear directly from veterinarians and veterinary students during the fly-in, because that helps them understand the unique challenges that veterinarians face.”
During the three-day event, held April 23-25, attendees heard from policy experts and met with congressional representatives and staff members. During their congressional meetings, attendees focused on two legislative issues facing the veterinary community: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and passage of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA). Both pieces of legislation would help reduce veterinary student debt, which averaged more than $140,000 for 2016 graduates of veterinary colleges.
In their discussions about the Higher Education Act, students emphasized the need to maintain and enhance portions of the law that reduce student loan burdens, such as lowering interest rates on federal loans and allowing refinancing. Participants also explained how enhancing the existing Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program by eliminating a tax withholding requirement would make more funding available to both increase loan repayment opportunities for veterinarians and help relieve rural veterinary shortages.
In total, the legislative fly-in participants represented nearly 30 veterinary schools and attended 138 meetings with congressional offices. Their diverse perspectives and stories amplified the AVMA’s voice on Capitol Hill, adding strength and depth to AVMA’s legislative advocacy work on behalf of AVMA members. We’re excited to watch these students and young veterinarians continue their careers and their efforts to advance the veterinary profession. The AVMA Legislative Fly-in is an annual event that will be entering its 10th year in 2018. We encourage all veterinary students and AVMA members to consider attending in the future.
Special thanks to Banfield Pet Hospital, which helped make the fly-in possible through financial support and overall sponsorship of the event.