July 21, 2010

Bill Seeks To End Veterinarian Shortage

Crapo, Johnson, Risch head bipartisan effort in rural areas

Washington, D.C. - Ending a shortage of rural veterinary medicine is the aim of bipartisan legislation introduced today by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota) with Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) as an original co-sponsor. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act would bolster our nation's veterinary work force by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.

"The shortage of veterinarians in the U.S. is acute," Crapo said, "with 1,300 counties throughout the country with less than one food animal veterinarian per 25,000 farm animals. This matters to more than just livestock and agricultural producers. It limits disease surveillance and response as well as animal welfare, and affects the economy. In Idaho alone, nearly half of our counties are in designated shortage areas. This legislation will help alleviate the shortage of veterinarians and maximize the program through addressing the tax treatment of program assistance."

"Communities in rural America depend on the health of their livestock for their livelihood, but many have no practicing veterinarian. The demand is only expected to increase by double digits over the next six years alone. This bill will make it easier to bring more veterinarians to these underserved areas and meet this demand," said Johnson.

Nationwide, there are 500 counties with at least 5,000 farm animals but with no local veterinarians in the area to treat the animals. 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 percent by 2016.

The Crapo-Johnson legislation would provide a federal income tax exemption for payments received under the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and similar state programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in smaller and rural communities. Rather than awarding full funding for this program each year, the VMLPR must immediately give back 39 percent of the money it receives to the U.S. Treasury as a federal tax. The bill simply removes this tax burden so that more veterinarians can be selected and help rural America. It would allow the VMLPR to increase the number of veterinarians selected by a third.

Congress has acted in the past to maximize the impact of loan repayment programs. In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 to exempt the benefits made available under the National Health Service Corps, a federal loan repayment program established to increase medical care in underserved areas.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act already has the support of more than 120 animal, agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Other co-sponsors include Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).