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 AVMA urges congressional action on veterinary shortages

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced that 187 regions in the United States currently suffer from shortages of livestock and public health veterinarians. These shortages threaten animal health, public health and the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) urges Congress to help address this issue by passing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (S. 487/H.R. 1268).

"Veterinarians are the best line of defense against animal diseases that can endanger humans, destroy livestock herds and hurt rural economies," said AVMA President Dr. Michael Topper. "When communities have inadequate access to veterinary care, the consequences can be widespread. It's urgent that Congress takes action to alleviate veterinary shortages across the country."

Increasing veterinary student debt – which reached $143,758 on average for 2016 graduates of veterinary colleges – is partly to blame for these veterinary shortages. High debt loads 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 Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) mitigates this challenge by offering loan forgiveness to veterinarians who commit to serving at least three years in underserved areas. However, the VMLRP 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 VMLRP 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. If this tax relief had been in place since the program's inception in 2010, an additional 211 shortage areas could have been filled.

"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. The program incentivizes veterinarians to practice in identified areas of need in exchange for reducing their student debt. It’s allowing veterinarians to pursue their career goals without sacrificing their financial stability. Expanding the program will only expand these benefits."

Shortage areas are identified based on requests from state animal health officials and determined on an annual basis. Next, NIFA will post a request for applications for veterinarians to serve in the FY 2018 shortage situations. For more information on the VMLRP and locations of shortage areas, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

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