Over 48 million chickens and turkeys nationwide have died from avian influenza this year. This severe disease outbreak demonstrates the critical need for veterinarians to continue serving agricultural communities to help poultry and livestock producers control and prevent outbreaks. No community should have to go without veterinary care, and thanks to some lawmakers, maybe soon they won’t have to.
On July 16, Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) introduced the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) Enhancement Act (H.R. 3095). This critical bill, which joins its counterpart bill in the Senate, S. 440, would maximize the VMLRP, which places livestock and public health veterinarians in designated shortage areas around the country in exchange for the government helping to repay some of their student loan debt. Essentially, this bill would remove the steep 39 percent withholding tax tacked on to each loan repayment award, freeing up money that Congress devotes to the program and allowing more veterinarians the opportunity to participate.
The AVMA has been calling on our nation’s congressional leaders to pass this important bill since 2010. By passing this bill, Congress has the ability to strengthen animal disease surveillance while improving animal health and welfare in areas of the country where access to veterinary services for food animals and public health are desperately needed.
Not only will this program allow veterinarians to work to control and prevent devastating diseases, such as this year’s outbreak of avian influenza or last year’s outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, but it will also help ensure that the food that comes to market is safe to eat and work to prevent these diseases from transferring to humans, thus impacting public health. In addition, veterinarians will serve a critical role in carrying out the Food and Drug Administration’s new Veterinary Feed Directive final rule, which mandates how medically important antibiotics given to food animals are to be used and distributed to livestock producers.
The nation’s veterinarians are at the intersection between animal and human health and bills such as the VMLRP Enhancement Act will help to ensure that all rural communities get the veterinary medical services they need. This bill has the endorsement of 150 state and national organizations (PDF).
H.R. 3095 has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, and S. 440 still remains in the Senate Committee on Finance. The AVMA will continue to work on passing this important bill in the months to come. AVMA members: tell their congressional officials to take action on this important bill in AVMA’s Legislative Action Center. Visit our VMLRP Enhancement Act advocacy page for more information.