Legislators Aim to End Shortage of Veterinarians in Rural Areas

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) applauds U.S. Senators Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, for introducing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.

The bipartisan legislation will help the country address a critical shortage of veterinarians serving rural areas--that are home to many farms housing horses--by making the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) tax-exempt, thereby increasing the number of veterinarians who can participate in the program. The act would also apply to similar state programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved communities.

Rather than awarding the full funding for this program each year, the current form of the VMLRP requires that 39% of the money it receives be returned to the U.S. Treasury as a federal tax, unlike its counterpart program for human medicine, the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program.

Sixty-two veterinarians from shortage areas around the country were selected for the program last year, out of a total pool of 260 applicants. About 20 more veterinarians could be selected to practice in a shortage area if the VMLRP was tax-exempt.

"By eliminating the tax burden on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, we will be sending more veterinarians into areas around the country that lack professionals possessing critical expertise in animal care, food safety, and public health," said Ron DeHaven, DVM, chief executive officer of the AVMA. "If the Johnson-Crapo bill passes, it will allow for enough additional funds to provide one additional veterinarian for every three veterinarians currently scheduled to receive awards."

"I know that we have a lot on our plate during this session of Congress, but we can't let this problem go unsolved," Johnson said. "The demand for veterinarians is continuing to grow at a time when some communities already lack a practicing veterinarian. This is simply unsustainable, especially when the livelihood of our producers depends on the health of their livestock. We can increase the number of veterinarians placed in underserved and shortage areas by one-third if this bill becomes law."

"This bill will help create new jobs and protect public health in rural America," Crapo said. "Outside of the benefits to livestock and agricultural producers, it would improve disease surveillance and response as well as improve animal welfare. In Idaho alone, 33 of our 44 counties are in designated shortage areas. This legislation will help alleviate the shortage of veterinarians and maximize training through addressing the tax treatment of program assistance."

Nationwide, there are 500 counties that have at least 5,000 farm animals--including horses--but no veterinarians in the area to treat them. This shortage could have dire consequences on human and animal health, public safety, animal welfare, disease surveillance, and economic development. Recent studies indicate that the supply of veterinarians working in food supply veterinary medicine will fall short by 4-5% annually through 2016.

Other U.S. Senators cosponsoring the legislation are John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; and Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act already has the support of 138 animal, agricultural, and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide.

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