Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has joined a bipartisan push to address the shortfall of veterinarians in underserved rural communities across Colorado and the country. The bipartisan Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, which Bennet is cosponsoring, would bolster the nation’s veterinary workforce by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.
“The health of our livestock is important not just because Colorado’s ranchers depend on it for their livelihood, but also because it directly affects food and public safety,” Bennet said. “This bill will reduce the hurdles that discourage veterinarians from working in rural communities and prevent them from practicing their profession in areas where they are needed the most.”
Currently, 14 Colorado counties do not have a sufficient number of food animal veterinarians, four of these counties have shortfalls in three or more specialty areas. These shortages are most acute in Kit Carson, Cheyenne, Weld and Bent counties. Nationwide, there are 500 counties that have at least 5,000 farm animals but no veterinarians in the area to treat them. This shortage could have dire consequences on human and animal health, public safety, animal welfare, disease surveillance and economic development. The demand for veterinarians across the United States could increase 14 percent by 2016.
This bill would provide a federal income tax exemption for payments received under the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and similar state programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in smaller and rural communities. Rather than awarding full funding for this program each year, the VMLRP must immediately give back 39 percent of the money it receives to the U.S. Treasury as a federal tax. The bipartisan Johnson-Crapo bill simply removes this tax burden so that more veterinarians can be selected and help rural America. This bill would allow the VMLRP to increase by one-third the number of veterinarians selected.
Congress has acted in the past to maximize the value of loan repayment programs. In 2004, Congress passed the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 to exempt the benefits made available under the National Health Service Corps, a federal loan repayment program established to increase medical care in underserved areas.
The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act already has the support of more than 120 animal, agricultural and veterinary medicine organizations nationwide, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.