Posted Oct. 17, 2009
The Senate version of the Veterinarian Services Investment Act was introduced Sept. 24 by Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan with support from Republican John Thune of South Dakota and the backing of a bipartisan slate of 19 additional co-sponsors.
The Senate bill (S. 1709) is the companion bill to H.R. 3519, which was brought before the House in July. Both bills would establish a competitive grants program to relieve the nation's veterinary shortages and support various related activities, including recruitment, retention, and continuing education programs for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
Among those who would be eligible to apply for a grant are for-profit and nonprofit veterinary clinics in rural areas and "a state, national, allied, or regional veterinary organization, a specialty board, or veterinary medical association" recognized by the AVMA.
Veterinary schools and 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.
"Too many rural communities lack adequate veterinary services that are important to our agricultural industry in Michigan," Stabenow said. "This legislation will address this shortage in veterinarian care, create good-paying jobs, and invest in food safety."
"Many people in rural states like South Dakota depend on healthy animals for their livelihood," Thune added. "This legislation will help draw and retain veterinarians in rural areas, increase the availability of veterinary education, and help veterinarians use technology to expand the reach of their practices."
More than 90 organizations have endorsed the VSIA, including every state veterinary medical association, specialty boards, and farm groups.
A few important differences exist between S. 1709 and H.R. 3519. In the Senate version, grant recipients are required to match federal funds with 25 percent of in-kind support, whereas the House bill mandates a higher rate of 50 percent.
"A lower funding threshold, especially in times when budgets are so tight, is really necessary," said Gina Luke, an assistant director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. The AVMA has played a key role in getting VSIA introduced in Congress.
In addition, S. 1709 includes language directing the Agriculture secretary to promulgate regulations implementing the grant program within one year of enactment. The House bill does not.
And finally, the titles of the bills vary slightly: H.R. 3519 is the Veterinarian Services Investment Act while S. 1709 is the Veterinary Services Investment Act. The AVMA prefers the latter title.
Neither bill specifies a dollar amount, only "such sums as necessary" to fulfill the objectives outlined in the legislation.
S. 1709 was referred to the Committee on Agriculture. H.R. 3519 has been under consideration by the House Agriculture Committee since July. H.R. 3519 has 30 bipartisan co-sponsors. The day the Senate bill was introduced, Rep. Adrian Smith of Nebraska spoke on the House floor about why the VSIA is needed to ease the national shortage of food animal veterinarians.
The AVMA's Gina Luke said the Association has a strategy to get the VSIA passed in the current 111th Congress, and it includes a vibrant grassroots campaign involving AVMA members.
"We have a lot of work to do, and our members have a lot of work to do," Luke said. "They have to be involved in carrying this message forward and getting their members of Congress onboard and enthusiastic, particularly those who sit on the House and Senate agriculture committees."
AVMA members are encouraged to ask their elected officials in Congress to support the VSIA. Go to http://thomas.loc.gov/ to see who's supporting the bill. Type in the bill number and select co-sponsors. Also visit the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center on the AVMA Web site by clicking on "Get Involved." For more information about the bill, contact Gina Luke at the GRD at (800) 321-1473, Ext. 3204, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.