The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) applauded U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) for introducing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act of 2013 (S. 553/H.R. 1125).
This bipartisan legislation addresses the critical shortage of veterinarians serving in rural areas of the country by making VMLRP tax-exempt, thereby increasing the number of veterinarians who can participate in the program without requiring additional appropriations from Congress.
“Passage of the Johnson-Crapo-Schrader legislation is vital to enhanced animal care, ensuring food safety and protecting public health in rural areas,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the AVMA. “By eliminating the tax burden on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, Congress will be putting this important program on the same level-playing field as its equally important counterpart program for human medicine. We are pleased to see this legislation introduced again and encourage the 113th Congress to expeditiously pass it.”
Unlike its counterpart program for human medicine — the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program—the VMLRP currently requires that 39% of its funding be returned to the Internal Revenue Service as a federal tax, barring the full funding from being awarded each year. If the Johnson-Crapo-Schrader legislation, which received wide support in the 111th and 112th Congresses, passes, then one additional veterinarian could receive an award for every three veterinarians that currently have awards.
“The shortage of veterinarians in our rural communities has a huge impact on our farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods depend on access to animal care,” Johnson said. “The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program is a critical tool to expanding access to veterinary care. Our legislation has the potential to increase the number of veterinarians placed in underserved and shortage areas by more than 30%.”
“Nationwide, there are 500 counties with at least 5,000 farm animals, but with no local veterinarians in the area to treat the animals,” Crapo said. “This shortage could have dire consequences on human and animal health, public safety, animal welfare, disease surveillance and economic development. The demand for veterinarians across the United States could increase 14% by 2016.”
“Our nation’s rural communities have had to bear the brunt of our economic downturn and they will be a driving force behind our recovery,” Schrader said. “Reducing loan debt for aspiring rural veterinarians is just one step Congress can take to protect public health, promote job growth and provide critical services for our rural folks. As a former veterinarian for more than 30 years in rural Oregon, I know the importance of legislation like this to our often forgotten communities.”
The VMLRP helps address shortages in veterinary services by paying up to $25,000 each year toward eligible student loans to applicant veterinarians who are willing to serve in USDA-deemed shortage areas for a period of three years. Sixty-two veterinarians were selected to participate in the program last year, out of a total pool of 260 applicants. Roughly 20 more veterinarians could be selected to practice in shortage areas if VMLRP awards were tax free.
AVMA would also like to recognize several other U.S. Senators who cosponsored this important legislation, including: Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act of 2013 has the support of more than 150 animal, agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide.