National Veterinary Accreditation Program deadline nears

USDA revision requires all participants to reapply by Aug. 2

June 18, 2010 (published)
By Edie Lau

With fewer than seven weeks to deadline, some 45,000 veterinarians have submitted applications to the National Veterinary Accreditation Program, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS).

Participation in the voluntary program enables practitioners to issue health certificates for animals bound for travel out of state or to other countries.

The 89-year-old program was revised this year to require periodic training so that accredited veterinarians keep current on emerging infectious diseases. Originally, accreditation was lifelong and required no further training.

The new requirements affect most veterinarians in the United States. The USDA has estimated that about 71,000 practitioners are accredited under the program, equal to more than eight out of 10 veterinarians in the country.

However, Madelaine Fletcher, a spokeswoman for USDA APHIS, said exactly how many accredited veterinarians are in active practice isn’t known because the agency’s database is outdated. Under the revised program, the records will be updated regularly.

On its website, the agency notes that it expects to receive some 60,000 applications. The deadline to apply is Aug. 2.

The application is available online and can be submitted electronically, by fax or by mail. A signature is not required. The form, VS 1-36A, is four pages long but three of those pages consist of instructions, a Privacy Act notice and an explanation of codes.

Despite its brevity, the form has confounded many an applicant, judging from comments made in an online discussion of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN).

Whitney Lemarr, a practitioner in Gray, Tenn., for example, had a list of questions about which boxes she should fill out and how. “Sorry I sound mentally challenged,” she apologized, “but government forms confuse the heck out of me!”

Lemarr is in good company. Fletcher said application processing has gone somewhat slowly to start because APHIS staff have had to contact a number of applicants to make corrections. “Some were trying really hard and put in extra information they didn’t need to,” Fletcher said, “or they left information out.” She called the mistakes “typical administrative kinds of things.”

One reason the form has proven baffling is because it is “multifunctional,” designed to be used for a variety of reasons, not just for reapplying for accreditation. Therefore, not every box has to be filled out.

Because this aspect bewildered so many applicants, the APHIS website now helpfully notes that applicants need “check only Box 3 of boxes 1-6 at the top of (the form).” Box 8 and boxes 40 to 44 also should be left blank, the site advises.

To help ease the process for those who have yet to apply, the agency has composed a PowerPoint presentation giving section-by-section instructions for filling out the form. Fletcher said the presentation should be posted as a "webinar" on the website by Monday.

“In retrospect, it would have been nice to have it earlier in the process,” Fletcher acknowledged. “But as time went on and we saw and heard people’s concerns, we tried to address them.”

The process hasn’t been bumpy for every applicant. Dr. Hillary Israeli of Lafayette Hill, Pa., reported early this year that after she submitted her form electronically, she received an acknowledgement from a USDA APHIS senior staff veterinarian that included this compliment: “You ... did a beautiful job with your application.”

Veterinarians who have submitted applications may continue performing their accredited duties, Fletcher said. Unless their forms contain mistakes, applicants will not necessarily be contacted by the agency until they receive letters in the mail with their national accreditation numbers and renewal dates. Fletcher said between 3,000 to 4,000 such letters have been sent so far.

Initially, renewal dates will range from three to five years in the future. Fletcher said the dates are staggered to avoid everyone coming up for renewal at the same time. Subsequent renewals will be required every three years.

Accredited veterinarians must complete a certain amount of training to be eligible for renewal. The amount of training depends upon whether they wish to be accredited to evaluate the health of all animals, including livestock and zoo animals that can transmit exotic diseases to livestock; or whether they wish to be accredited only to evaluate the health of dogs, cats and other companion animals (birds and horses excepted).

Training will be offered free online beginning in December, to be completed at participants’ convenience. APHIS has not asked state veterinary licensing boards to allow the training to be applied toward continuing education (CE) requirements, Fletcher said, but Iowa has determined that it will accept the courses for CE credit. “It would be up to the individual states to determine whether this will meet their needs,” she said.

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