Bill to benefit veterinary-deprived locales

Bill to benefit veterinary-deprived locales

Apr 01, 2003

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.

Veterinary graduates who decide they want to go to those areas would be able to apply for loan repayment money that the USDA would obtain through appropriations.

"There's been a lot of excitement among veterinary students to have the opportunity to go to an area where they're really needed - where they can really make a difference," says April Demert, policy and program analyst for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Demert, who is working with legislators on the latest draft, says, "There's been a reticence among veterinary graduates because they have large loan payments. What this legislation will do is hopefully open some doors to them to be able to pay back their loans, while also providing service in a needed area."

Second time a charm?

This is the second go-around for this piece of legislation, which died in Congress last year. Originally introduced as the Veterinary Health Enhancement Act, the first version of the bill involved the Agriculture Committee and the 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 the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. At presstime, lobbyists were still seeking a Senate sponsor.

Who is underserved?

Still in draft form, the legislation, which must be authorized by the Secretary of Agriculture, defines underserved in one of three capacities:

1) Geographic

2) Population areas. It's not yet clear whether population refers to animal or human populations lacking veterinary services, according to Demert.

3) An area of veterinary practice that the Secretary of Agriculture determines to have a shortage, such as food safety inspections or biomedical research.

"The bill, as written, is very broad," says Demert, who adds that the bill's breadth was intentional, forcing the USDA to work with other agencies.

For example, although still undecided, the bill may enable veterinary graduates to develop a contract with other federal agencies for example, the U.S. Department of Education, to repay their loans.

Good timing

With the Farm Bill's passage last year, it opens the door to new legislation for the Agriculture Committee to consider and move more swiftly through Capitol Hill.

Additionally, leverage from similar loan repayment legislation for nurses and teachers could stand to benefit the veterinary profession.