September 15, 2009

 

 Veterinary services legislation introduced in Congress

 
 
 

Bipartisan bill would expand veterinary services nationwide

 
posted September 1, 2009

New legislation addressing the nation's veterinary services needs is under consideration in the House of Representatives.

The AVMA played a key role in crafting the Veterinarian Services Investment Act (H.R. 3519), which was introduced July 31 by Republican Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Democrat Leonard Boswell of Iowa and had 17 co-sponsors as of mid-August.

The bipartisan VSIA would establish a grant program designed to relieve veterinary shortages while supporting a broad range of veterinary services, including veterinarian and veterinary technician recruitment and retention, and continuing education programs. The grant amount will be determined by Congress.

The legislation is the latest federal effort to shore up a nationwide decline in important veterinary services, especially in the areas of food animal medicine and public health. The Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act (H.R. 2999), for example, would create a competitive, multimillion-dollar grant program for veterinary colleges and other institutions offering graduate training in veterinary public health.

In addition, the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, which is in the process of being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to encourage veterinarians to work in underserviced areas in exchange for school loan repayment.

"Not a day goes by that I don't hear about the damage caused by the shortage of large animal veterinarians in our district and our nation," said Rep. Eric Massa, a VSIA co-sponsor.

"In upstate New York," Massa continued, "the shortage of large animal veterinarians costs our farmers millions of dollars each year, and by making a meaningful investment in the education of our young people, we can take a long-term approach toward improving this situation."

If the VSIA is passed, grant funds could be used in the following ways:

  • Recruit, place, and retain veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and veterinary technology students.
  • Assist veterinarians with establishing or expanding practices by equipping veterinary offices, sharing in the overhead costs of such practices, or establishing mobile veterinary facilities that will at least in part address education or extension needs.
  • Provide financial assistance for expenses other than tuition for veterinary students, veterinary interns and externs, fellows and residents, and veterinary technician students to attend training programs in food safety or food animal medicine.
  • Support programs, in coordination with accredited colleges of veterinary medicine, that establish or expand accredited education programs, veterinary residency and fellowship programs, and veterinary internship and externship programs.
  • Support programs for tele-veterinary medicine that contribute at least in part to veterinary extension, education, or research.
  • Support the ability of state veterinarians or animal health officials to coordinate veterinary services and food protection issues.
  • Assess veterinary shortage areas.
  • Support continuing education and extension programs, including distance-based education, for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other health professionals that will strengthen veterinary programs and enhance food safety.
  • Recruit and retain faculty at AVMA-accredited veterinary schools and colleges.
  • Support programs, in coordination with universities or local education agencies, to encourage students in secondary schools to pursue a career in veterinary medicine or other science professions.

Among those who would be eligible to apply for a grant are for-profit and nonprofit veterinary clinics located in rural areas and "a state, national, allied, or regional veterinary organization, a specialty board, or veterinary medical association" recognized by the AVMA.

"This is not a cookie-cutter approach to addressing veterinary workforce issues."

—GINA LUKE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR,
AVMA GOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS DIVISION

Veterinary colleges, university research and veterinary medical foundations, departments of veterinary science and comparative medicine, state agricultural experiment stations, and state, local, and tribal government agencies would also be eligible to apply for grants under the VSIA.

"It has been enormously gratifying to work with Hill staff on such a practical, no- nonsense bill that aims to relieve veterinary shortage situations and support veterinary services," said Gina Luke, an assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division who oversees business issues.

"Representatives Smith and Boswell understand that every state is different and the veterinary challenges faced by Nebraska and Iowa may be dramatically different from those faced by Florida and Oregon," Luke continued. "This is not a cookie-cutter approach to addressing veterinary workforce issues."

The VSIA was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture for consideration. The GRD is currently working with Senate staff on a companion bill that is expected to be introduced by Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican John Thune of South Dakota in September.

AVMA members are encouraged to ask their representatives to support the VSIA. Visit the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center on the AVMA Web site (www.avma.org) by clicking on "Get Involved" in the Advocacy section. For more information about the bill, contact Gina Luke at the GRD at (800) 321-1473, Ext. 3204, or at gluke@avma.org.