The American Veterinary Medical Association is asking Congress to help with funding to reduce the number of regions across the nation that currently suffer from a shortage of livestock and public health veterinarians.
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has said that 187 regions are in need of staffing, and the AVMA points to threats to animal health and the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers are major reasons to fill the need. The solution, the group suggests, is passage of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.
High debt loads — which reached $143,758 on average for 2016 graduates of veterinary colleges — can make it cost-prohibitive for young veterinarians to practice in rural areas, as rural salaries are often lower than those in urban areas.
The federally funded loan repayment program mitigates the educational burden new vets feel by offering loan forgiveness to those who commit to serving at least three years in underserved areas. However, the program does not receive enough funding to meet the demand, in part because each award is subject to an expensive income withholding tax that sends the program’s funding back to the government. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act would eliminate this tax to free up additional funding to support more communities in need of veterinarians, all within the current funding level provided by Congress.
“In Iowa, the VMLRP has been instrumental in placing veterinarians where they’re needed and enhancing livestock producers’ access to veterinary services,” said Dr. John U. Thomson, Dean Emeritus of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “This program is helping to maintain a critical veterinary infrastructure available to serve our ranchers and farmers in the production of safe, wholesome, available and affordable sources of animal protein.”