The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) applauded two U.S. senators for sponsoring important legislation that will help ensure all of America’s rural communities get access to the veterinary care they desperately need. Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act (S. 440) late on February 10, which is a bill that will exempt VMLRP awards from a steep federal income withholding tax, allowing more veterinarians the opportunity to provide ranchers and farmers with vital food safety and animal and public health services.
“The AVMA has lobbied hard for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act over the last six years because we understand the far-reaching impacts that it can have on improving the health and welfare of our nation’s livestock and sustaining U.S. agriculture production,” said AVMA President Dr. Ted Cohn. “As the veterinary profession has evolved, we have seen more veterinarians begin practicing in the cities, leaving many farmers and ranchers in rural areas in need of essential services for their livestock. The VMLRP provides the necessary incentive to support veterinarians who are willing to devote their lives to public service by practicing in the nation’s shortage areas, and we thank our leaders in Congress for continuing to support this important initiative that is a win for both public and animal health.”
The VMLRP places livestock and public health veterinarians in underserved areas of the country in exchange for paying off up to $25,000 annually in their student loan debt. The financial incentive helps veterinarians—who face an average $135,283 in student debt—make a living in a community where opening their own veterinary clinic could be cost prohibitive. Unfortunately, the loan repayment awards are subject to a 39 percent withholding tax, meaning the Internal Revenue Service takes 39 cents of every dollar that Congress appropriates to the program. If Congress removed the withholding tax, as it did in 2004 with the VMLRP’s counterpart program for human medicine (the National Health Service Corps’ Loan Repayment Program), then roughly one more veterinarian could serve for every three that currently participate, allowing more veterinarians the opportunity to reduce their student loan debt in exchange for their commitment to public service.
“Access to quality animal care is essential for farmers and ranchers in Idaho whose livelihoods depend on it,” said Crapo. “Shortages of food animal veterinarians raise serious concerns as many areas of the country have a disproportionate number of animals compared to available veterinary services. This legislation will provide a lifeline to rural communities by incentivizing well-trained veterinarians to serve in the areas where they are needed most. Having access to veterinary services not only bolsters rural economies, but contributes to the safety of our food supply as well.”
“Veterinarians are such an important part of animal health and our agricultural economy,” said Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Yet too many communities in Michigan, and throughout the country, lack access to their services. That’s why Congress needs to work in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation. Our bill supports our farmers and rural communities by creating stronger incentives for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.”
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the VMLRP has, since 2010, successfully placed 286 veterinarians in 45 states, Puerto Rico and on U.S. federal lands to help protect food safety, improve animal health and welfare, promote sustainable economic development and safeguard our homeland from foreign animal diseases.
The legislation has broad support from more than 150 veterinary, commodity and agriculture-related organizations. Learn more about the bill, read stories from current veterinarians participating in the program, and view infographics and other resources on AVMA’s website.