The Army Veterinary Corps is a part of the Army that many people don’t even realize exists, let alone how it got started. Historically, horses were a very important part of our nation’s defense, and in 1792 congressional legislation assigned each troop of cavalrymen to have one farrier to care for the ailments of horses.
In the Civil War, there were large losses of horses due to disease, and one veterinary surgeon became authorized for each cavalry regiment. At this time, however, there were no fixed standards for education or expertise. By 1879, General Orders stated that all who were appointed as veterinary surgeons would be
graduates of established veterinary schools or colleges.
Today, the Veterinary Corps also covers a large part of the food protection and defense mission. In the Spanish-American War, post commanders instructed veterinarians to conduct inspections of locally purchased beef, both before and after death, to ensure the food was safe to eat. Joining these two missions of equine care and food protection, the National Defense Act of June 3, 1916 commissioned the Army Veterinary Corps. Throughout time, cavalry units gave way to mechanized tanks and the government owned animal mission shifted largely to military working dogs. The food mission expanded to include many aspects of public health, in cooperation with preventative medicine.
All veterinarians in the Veterinary Corps, or Veterinary Corps Officers, are graduates of accredited civilian veterinary schools and maintain current and valid state veterinary licenses. To become a VCO, there are three common routes. The first is to earn a scholarship while in veterinary school called the Health Professions Scholarship Program. This scholarship pays for most, if not all, of the professional education expenses and the veterinarian comes onto active duty following graduation.
Others choose to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in college, apply for admission to veterinary school, and then join active duty following graduation from veterinary school. Lastly, some veterinarians who have graduated and practice their profession, choose to join the Army a few or several years into their careers and become VCOs. All three options eventually lead to the same outcome. Once active duty, the possibilities are almost endless in terms of assignments, career progression and additional schooling. The Military Occupation Specialty, or MOS, of an Army Veterinarian is a 64A at the beginning of one’s career. This is equivalent to a general practice veterinarian.
With additional schooling, the MOS can change to a 64B (holding a master in public health degree), 64C (lab animal medicine specialist), 64D (veterinary pathologist), 64E (PhD doctoral degree), or a 64F (clinical specialist in areas such as internal medicine, surgery or emergency and critical care). The Army Veterinary Corps has an exciting history and will continue to be a small, (with only about 540 active duty veterinarians) but special part of the Army for years to come.