Legislators are crafting a bill, "National Veterinary Medical Service Act, that if passed, would create a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide loan repayment for a select group of veterinary students - those who agree to work in underserved areas. The legislature would define which areas would qualify.
Legislators are crafting a bill, "National Veterinary Medical ServiceAct, that if passed, would create a program within the U.S. Department ofAgriculture (USDA) to provide loan repayment for a select group of veterinarystudents - those who agree to work in underserved areas. The legislaturewould define which areas would qualify.
Veterinary graduates who decide they want to go to those areas wouldbe able to apply for loan repayment money that the USDA would obtain throughappropriations.
"There's been a lot of excitement among veterinary students to havethe opportunity to go to an area where they're really needed - where theycan really make a difference," says April Demert, policy and programanalyst for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Demert, who is working with legislators on the latest draft, says, "There'sbeen a reticence among veterinary graduates because they have large loanpayments. What this legislation will do is hopefully open some doors tothem to be able to pay back their loans, while also providing service ina needed area."
Second time a charm?
This is the second go-around for this piece of legislation, which diedin Congress last year. Originally introduced as the Veterinary Health EnhancementAct, the first version of the bill involved the Agriculture Committee andthe Energy and Commerce Committee, which stalled opportunities for a hearing.As a result, the Ag Committee has taken sole ownership of this year's draft.
For the latest draft, Rep. Chip Pickering (D-Miss.) is sponsoring thebill in the U.S. House of Representatives. At presstime, lobbyists werestill seeking a Senate sponsor.
Who is underserved?
Still in draft form, the legislation, which must be authorized by theSecretary of Agriculture, defines underserved in one of three capacities:
2) Population areas. It's not yet clear whether population refers toanimal or human populations lacking veterinary services, according to Demert.
3) An area of veterinary practice that the Secretary of Agriculture determinesto have a shortage, such as food safety inspections or biomedical research.
"The bill, as written, is very broad," says Demert, who addsthat the bill's breadth was intentional, forcing the USDA to work with otheragencies.
For example, although still undecided, the bill may enable veterinarygraduates to develop a contract with other federal agencies for example,the U.S. Department of Education, to repay their loans.
With the Farm Bill's passage last year, it opens the door to new legislationfor the Agriculture Committee to consider and move more swiftly throughCapitol Hill.
Additionally, leverage from similar loan repayment legislation for nursesand teachers could stand to benefit the veterinary profession.