Veterinary public health bill advances in Congress

Published on November 15, 2010
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The House of Representatives recently passed a measure aimed at beefing up the nation's supply of public health veterinarians.

Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin introduced a substitute amendment to the Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act (H.R. 2999). The new bill, called the Veterinary Public Health Amendments Act, would amend the Public Health Service Act to include veterinary public health in the Public Health Workforce Grants program and the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program.

The provision passed the House Sept. 29. It is intended to help ensure that public health veterinarians are included when critical public health workforce shortages in federal, state, local, and tribal public health agencies are being addressed.

"(Veterinarians) are our frontline of defense against potentially deadly disease outbreaks," Baldwin said. "The recent cases of Salmonella from tainted eggs serve as the latest reminder that diseases can spread rapidly from animals to humans, often with deadly consequences."

The nation is experiencing a shortage of veterinarians working in the public health field. A 2009 study by the Government Accountability Office on the veterinary workforce indicated that the shortage will worsen as a result of space constraints at all 28 veterinary schools and colleges.

The Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program would be open to public health veterinarians and veterinary students studying public health at an accredited academic institution. The program would provide loan repayment of up to $35,000 per year for three years for veterinarians who agree to serve in a federal, state, local, or tribal public health agency or a related training fellowship.

The Public Health Workforce Grants program awards grants or contracts to eligible entities to increase the number of individuals in the public health workforce, to enhance the quality of such workforce, and to enhance the ability of the workforce to meet national, state, and local health care needs.

Baldwin's amendment defined veterinary public health to include veterinarians engaged in one or more of the following areas, to the extent such areas have an impact on human health: biodefense and emergency preparedness, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, environmental health, ecosystem health, pre- and post-harvest food protection, regulatory medicine, diagnostic laboratory medicine, veterinary pathology, biomedical research, treatment of food animals in underserved areas, and government practice.

The AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges welcomed the House action and called on the Senate to approve the bill.

"H.R. 2999 as amended represents a positive but incremental step in ensuring that we support the veterinary workforce responsible for protecting human and animal health," said Dr. Willie M. Reed, Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine dean and president of the AAVMC board of directors.