Meet VSEA Member Matt Bedia, a wounded Iraq vet whose job as an animal health specialist is one of the 320 cuts proposed by Governor Douglas.
"Personally, without my state job, making my mortgage payment is going to be tough.”
Job Cut Profile
Animal Health Specialist
Agency of Agriculture
State Employee Since 2003
VSEA member Matt Bedia remembers how thrilled he was to find a job with the State in 2003 as a dairy inspector with the Agency of Agriculture. Being raised on a Vermont working dairy farm, it was a great fit, but then, in January 2004, Bedia and hundreds of other Vermont National Guard members were deployed to Iraq. Two months later, Bedia found himself back in the states being treated at the Walter Reed Hospital for severe wounds he suffered in a mortar attack.
“I was hit in the back and messed up pretty good. Two of the four guys to my left and right were killed,” he remembers. “My injuries ended up leaving me 70 percent disabled, but, thankfully, I am still able to perform the service I do for the state. Now though, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Bedia is worried because his position (now animal health specialist)—like hundreds of other state employee positions—was included in the State’s recently proposed 320 RIFs to fill a hole in Vermont’s budget. When Bedia and his colleagues were called in and told that nearly all the positions in the agency’s animal, meat and dairy safety divisions were on the chopping block, the employees were stunned.
“None of us can figure out the logic about why the State is cutting these jobs,” explains Bedia. “We are Vermont’s first line of defense against a horrible disease making its way into the state and impacting our animal populations or causing a lot of harm to our food and dairy products.”
Bedia pointed to an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in England a few years back as an example of why his services will be continued to be needed in Vermont.
“Almost 13 million cloven-hoof animals ended up being slaughtered because of that outbreak, and it was a huge job,” said Bedia. “It’s my job, and the job of two other Vermont animal health specialists statewide (there were four until a recent round of cuts), to constantly monitor our herds to make sure we don’t have hoof-and-mouth or any other diseases breaking out here.” Bedia adds that he and his colleagues also monitor and test birds, pigs, horses, deer and assorted other animal populations. They are also responsible for responding to animal cruelty reports and ensuring that the paperwork on imported and exported animals is in order.
Asked what precautions he would be taking if Vermont’s dairy, meat and animal inspection programs are killed, Bedia said “I’ll probably be looking closely at the packages of meat in the stores—real close.”
Since being informed that his job was slated for RIF, Bedia says life has been very tough for both him and his colleagues.
“Everyone was in shock at first,” explains Bedia. “But our shock has now turned into anger. To a person, we agree that the way the State did this unfair. They’ve left a lot of people’s lives hanging. Personally, without my state job, making my mortgage payment is going to be tough.”
When asked if he believes the federal government can sufficiently fill the void left after he and his colleagues are RIF’d (which some State officials have suggested is the option), Bedia smiles and says “I wouldn’t put too much faith in the feds being able to step in. To be honest, there’s just not very many of them around, especially up here.”
Bedia is also concerned that with the economy being the way it is, more and more Vermonters will probably be trying their hand at raising a few animals to help make ends meet.
“Agriculture is picking up around our state,” says Bedia. “Not big producers, but families with some acreage who decide to raise chickens for eggs and meat or cows for milk and meat,or pigs…whatever. Our job is to make sure their animals have come into Vermont legally, that the paperwork is complete and to act as a resource if a Vermonter has questions about a sick bird or animal. We disappear and that piece of mind will be gone for Vermonters. All it will take is one outbreak, and we’ll all be asking ‘why?’”
Bedia says that, to date, Vermont has been fortunate that no major animal, meat or dairy incidents have occurred in the state, but he attributes a lot of that luck to the jobs he and his colleagues perform daily.
“It’s not a matter of if it will ever happen, but when it will happen,” he says. “I’d just as soon we were still employed so we could do everything in our power to keep it out of here before it gets in.”