Veterinary public health workforce bill introduced in Congress

Published on July 18, 2009
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Congress has taken up bipartisan legislation that would increase the number of veterinarians trained in public health.

The Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act (H.R. 2999), introduced June 23, would create a competitive, multimillion-dollar grant program for veterinary colleges and other institutions offering graduate training in veterinary public health.

Under the act, $100 million would be authorized for grants for each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011, and $50 million for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2014.

The bill would also establish a Division of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Directed by a distinguished member of the veterinary profession or public health, the division would be responsible for administering programs related to veterinary medicine and public health.

Additionally, an education loan repayment program for veterinary faculty would be administered by the division, with $20 million requested for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014.

The Division of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health would also oversee a fellowship program for veterinarians in food systems security and veterinary public health. A request for $2.5 million for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 is included to run the program.

Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin introduced the bill with fellow Democrats Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Kurt Schrader, an Oregon veterinarian, along with Republican Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania.

"Veterinarians are our frontline of defense against potentially deadly disease outbreaks. ... As the H1N1 pandemic is proving now, disease outbreaks can grow rapidly and unpredictably. We need enough public health veterinarians to help keep our food supply and our families safe," Baldwin said.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges strongly supports the Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act. "Passing this legislation is critical to meeting the needs of the nation," said Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, AAVMC executive director.

As for the AVMA, it has designated the bill for "active pursuit of passage" on its legislative agenda. "This legislation highlights the critical role veterinarians in public and private practice have in promoting public health, and it recognizes the need for federal investment in bolstering the veterinary workforce, which is on the front lines of public health, food protection, and animal health," said AVMA CEO, Dr. W. Ron DeHaven.

The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where Baldwin, Pallone, and Murphy are members.