RVTg, FFCP (Elite)
Caitlin Murphy and her active-duty U.S. Marine husband live in Okinawa, Japan. She earned an associate degree in veterinary technology and a bachelor’s degree in veterinary nursing and is pursuing an online master’s degree in veterinary medical sciences from the University of Florida. As a Red Cross member in Okinawa, Murphy provides veterinary aid during natural disasters, like seasonal typhoons.Read Articles Written by Caitlin Murphy
The United States Army Veterinary Corps has been a shining light of pride for both the American military and our veterinary community since 1916. This grouping of medical personnel includes DVMs commissioned as officers and enlisted veterinary assistants, or “animal care specialists.” However, there is one major player clearly missing from the team and that is the veterinary nurse, also known as the credentialed technician or technologist. As a Marine Corps spouse, and Navy and Air Force child, I have always well-admired each branch of the Armed Forces. In fact, I tried to enlist in the Army before running into the hindrance of a not-so-satisfactory health record. Forgetting that high school dream, I promptly moved on to a different plan-of-action by becoming a registered veterinary technologist. Once receiving the orders moving my husband and I to Okinawa, Japan, I quickly learned that there are Army veterinary clinics almost everywhere. Formally known as veterinary treatment facilities, or VTFs, these exclusive hospitals are installed anywhere working military animals are used. This means that they are located on nearly every U.S. base around the world, despite the branch the base is designated to.
However, upon my first trip into my base’s VTF, I was shocked to see that there are currently only two positions held within the facility. This was the moment that gave me the idea of combining my two life goals together by bringing credentialed veterinary technologists into the US Army’s Veterinary Corps. Veterinary technologists are similar to veterinary technicians, except for the fact that they have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in the field of veterinary medicine. The reason why this advanced level of education is being referenced is because veterinary nurses cannot be introduced into the military as officers without that baseline. Anyone with an associate’s degree or high school diploma must instead take the honorable path of enlisting, which rarely allows for one to select the military occupation they would prefer or are already trained for. Credentialing veterinary support staff has been around since the 1970s, so I say that it’s high time for the Army to update its animal health care division.
What the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Is
In the height of WWI, the Veterinary Corps was created by the U.S. Army to treat working military animals the same way their wounded handlers were being cared for. These species currently include dogs, horses, mules, sea lions, as well as dolphins. Those apart of the Veterinary Corps, additionally, aid in government research and zoonotic disease control, along with care for the non-working pets owned by military families and communities in-need during deployments. Doctors of veterinary medicine are trained throughout their time in graduate school, which is nearly entirely paid for by the government in return for about seven years of service. There is also the option of commissioning after becoming a fully licensed veterinarian, which includes the benefit of the school-repayment-program in return for a similar number of years in service. Meanwhile, the enlisted animal care specialists, who are the equivalent of the civilian-known certified veterinary assistant, join the military with the minimum requirement of a high school diploma and a skilled technician score of 91 from the ASVAB. This examination, also known as the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery, evaluates potential recruits’ verbal, math, science, and spatial skills prior to entering the military. After swearing in, these newly enlisted soldiers are taken through a 10-week boot camp immediately followed by an 11-week specialty training program in return for four years of service.
How the Army Veterinary Corps Benefits
Anyone in the veterinary industry knows that surviving off of our wonderful assistants alone simply isn’t possible. DVMs need the immense number of benefits that come with having a credentialed technician or technologist on their staff. So, why should America’s military be any different? Commissioning as an officer requires the minimum of having a bachelor’s degree, which is a need easily met by thousands of veterinary technologists across the country this very moment. Plus, thousands more of credentialed veterinary technicians with associate’s degrees can quickly return to school in-person or online to upgrade their diploma within as little as 1.5 years. Enlisted animal care specialists that attend an 11-week program cannot meet the same standard as a credentialed veterinary technician or technologist working in the field today. We are backed by two to six years of a standardized AVMA-accredited education, along with a well-earned and maintained medical license. It would be similar to comparing an enlisted Navy Hospital Corpsman’s 19-week program to a commissioned registered nurse’s four- to six-year degree and licensure. They simply are not the same, which is why once an animal care specialist’s time in the military comes to a close, they cannot sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam, also seen as the baseline for becoming credentialed in any part of the U.S. If the Veterinary Corps prides themselves on their high-end treatment facilities, shouldn’t they have the credentialed staff that knows how to properly use it to its fullest?
Across the pond in the U.K., the Queen’s Royal Army also has a Veterinary Corps, which includes registered veterinary nurses as officers amongst their ranks. Similarly, Canada is preparing for the inclusion of registered veterinary technologists as they are in the process of reactivating their own Army Veterinary Corps. Upon speaking with several anonymous active-duty DVMs in the U.S. Army, they explained that the officer shortage in the military is uncanny, but the lack of recruited personnel to the Veterinary Corps as a whole is nearly crippling. In fact, if anyone is to call an Army VTF, the introduction or voicemail message will at some point review how understaffed and overwhelmed their facilities are no matter the time of year or their location. Bringing in veterinary technologists would end the added strain placed upon these veterinarians by easing their current workload and aiding in the training of the animal care specialists. Veterinary technologists are certified to preform many tasks that exceed a veterinary assistant’s education, and arrive with experience prior to joining the military due to the requirement of completing several hundred hours of externship prior to graduation. We would be the same valuable asset in both clinic and deployment settings, because similar to veterinarians, technologists are trained to work in all types of terrains and medical situations while in school. Whether it be on a snowy farm, fish-filled tank, desert wildlife refuge, zoo enclosure, or emergency hospital, credentialed veterinary technologists are a versatile member of the medical community that cannot be ignored.
How the Veterinary Community Benefits
The national veterinary technician shortage is a famine our community is tired of struggling with. The main complaints said as to why we cannot tackle this issue being the challenge of schooling, low pay rates, minor rewards for progression, and lack of title protection/recognition. By employing the aid of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, we can eliminate the majority of these problems in a single swoop. If they are to follow a similar commissioning structure as their (human) Nurse Corps, veterinary technologists could receive the benefits of having their school loans paid off or be provided scholarships while in school, rank-correlated officer pay rates, competitive health care, living quarters, retirement wages, world travel, child care, and much, much more. They would also have the option of going active-duty or reservist when joining the Army, enter in at the rank of O-1 or second lieutenant, and be eligible for a signing bonus of up to $30,000 in return for an estimated three years of service. But, again, that is if the Army is to mimic the same commissioning process as their (human) Nurse Corps. This, in turn, would attract more non-credentialed personnel and outsiders in general to join the veterinary community by commissioning into the Army Veterinary Corps as a technologist. Because, keep in mind, once their contracted time is served, they will still be fully credentialed and in need of work with several years of valuable experience under their belts.
Competitive benefits and pay rates will also pour into the civilian side of veterinary medicine in order to keep from losing current staff as well as retain the ability to hire new technologists. Some hospital companies, like the Veterinary Emergency Group, have already begun spearheading the way in this process by offering credentialed technicians as much as $40 an hour along with signing bonuses, credentialing education reimbursement, and unlimited CE. The military is, additionally, well-known for paying current serving members to return to school for their master’s degrees in exchange for an increased salary and extended time of service, which would subsequently further elevate our veterinary community standards as a whole. Plus, if the Veterinary Corps is to follow the inevitable wave of title change — thanks to the Veterinary Nurse Initiative — they could properly title these commissioned veterinary technologists as “veterinary nurses.” Enlisted personnel, such as animal care specialists, are strongly restricted against preforming the same duties and wearing the same title as an officer, which leads to a keen level of recognition and respect. This would entice current credentialed technologists to stay within the veterinary community and inspire credentialed technicians to become technologists by bringing a massive change in tone to, not only our own industry, but the world outside of veterinary medicine.
How to Initiate This Change
Contacting your state senators and congressmen is the quickest and best way change is made within the military. It is through their letters of recommendation high school students have gotten into the military academies for over a century. And how military mothers recently made change in overly strenuous boot camp conditions during recruit training. Communicating with elected officials is the way civilians are heard the loudest and how they are taken the most seriously for instances such as these. You can find them, along with their contact information, through a simple Google search or by following the steps here. Once looking up the representatives in your area, email those people or write them a letter persuading him or her on the need for veterinary nurses as officers in the Army. Tell them about how this change will benefit both communities and tackle current, massive veterinary issues faced all over the country. You can even forward them a copy of this article as a way of grabbing their attention. Be aware that we can successfully make this change happen when reaching enough people. Credentialing veterinary support staff has been around for nearly 50 years, which is more than enough time to prove what we have done to elevate our profession. The U.S. Army needs us as much as we need them. By banding together as an industry, we can bring veterinary nurses into the Veterinary Corps.
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