New bill would address rural veterinary shortage


Every rancher knows you need a trusted, nearby vet to help when you have tried everything. Over time, finding a vet has become a challenge due to veterinary shortages to rural areas. The American Veterinary Medical Association welcomes the re-introduction of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (S. 1163) by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). If passed, this bill will play a critical role in addressing regional shortages of food animal and public health veterinarians in rural and agricultural communities.

“Veterinary shortages are one of the many significant challenges facing farmers and ranchers today,” said AVMA President Dr. John de Jong. “If we don’t take steps to address these shortages, we’re likely going to see an increase in animal disease incidents that impact our economy and even public health. We’re tremendously grateful to Senators Crapo and Stabenow for their continued leadership on this issue, and the work of all lawmakers who are supportive of this legislation.”

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture designated 190 regions in 44 states as suffering from shortages of food animal or public health veterinarians, the most in the program’s history.

Unfortunately, student debt is a key driver of these shortages — in 2018, average student debt for veterinarians who graduated with loans topped $180,000. At the same time, food animal veterinary careers typically pay less than companion animal veterinary careers. This income disparity can make it financially challenging for new veterinarians to pursue opportunities in food animal medicine.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program helps address this income disparity and incentivize veterinarians to serve in high-need areas by providing educational loan assistance to veterinarians who commit to food animal or public health practice in USDA-designated veterinary shortage areas for at least three years. While the program has been tremendously successful in closing access gaps since its inception in 2010, shortage areas persist and the program consistently receives more applications than funding allows.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act will end a withholding tax applied to program awards and thus free up additional funding for rural veterinary care, so the program can serve more rural communities without expanding its budget footprint.

This legislation is a common-sense solution to a serious problem. The AVMA is grateful to Senators Crapo and Stabenow for their leadership and looks forward to working with lawmakers to pass this important bill as soon as possible.

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