(WASHINGTON, DC) June 25, 2021— The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA), which would enable more food animal and public health veterinarians to receive up to $25,000 a year for student loan repayment in exchange for service in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-designated veterinarian shortage areas, has been reintroduced in the Senate.
Endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the bill would enhance the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program by ending the federal withholding tax on awards, thus freeing up funding and allowing the program to reach more communities that need veterinary services. In exchange for the award, veterinarians are required to serve for at least three years in one of the USDA-designated veterinarian shortage areas. The USDA designated 221 shortage areas in 48 different states for 2021.
Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) reintroduced the VMLRPEA in the Senate. Earlier this year, Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) reintroduced the legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Expanding the VMLRP means more veterinarians will receive student loan relief and there will be more access to veterinary care in rural areas across the country – a win-win for the profession,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, AVMA President. “The AVMA is grateful our leaders in Congress are supporting legislation that removes the tax on service awards and maximizes the effectiveness of the VMLRP. We will use this momentum to build broad support for the bill and send it to the President’s desk.”
The average student loan debt for graduates of veterinary college who borrowed rose to $188,000 in 2020. As a result, many new graduates are unable to practice in the underserved areas that need their services the most, since veterinary salaries in rural areas are often lower than those in urban or suburban areas. If the VMLRPEA is passed, one additional veterinarian could participate in the program for every three veterinarians currently accepted. Since 2010, 1,632 veterinarians have applied to the VMLRP but only 552 have received service awards.
“Veterinarians provide essential support for the agricultural economy in so many rural areas and small towns in Michigan and nationwide,” said Senator Stabenow. “But too many places lack the veterinary services they need. This bipartisan bill will provide incentives for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply.”
“Qualified veterinarians in agricultural communities across the nation are a key part of maintaining animal health and welfare, and ensuring ranchers and farmers have access to care for their livestock,” said Senator Crapo. “Overly burdensome federal taxes on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program limit the reach of the program’s benefits, and addressing those limitations would allow more veterinarians to have the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are in critical need.”
During the AVMA’s first-ever virtual legislative fly-in, veterinarians and veterinary students met with 218 different congressional offices to advocate on behalf of the profession. Participants identified the VMLRPEA as a top priority for the AVMA throughout the event.
More than 100 agriculture-related organizations support the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act. The AVMA is encouraging the veterinary community to contact their members of Congress on this issue.