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Senators address rural veterinarian shortage

Senators address rural veterinarian shortage

News One Health

By Joshua Baethge

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., and Mike Crapo, R- Idaho, introduced legislation this week to address what they say is a critical shortage of veterinarians in rural communities. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Act includes tax incentives intended to encourage more veterinarians to practice in rural communities.

Efforts to pass similar legislation have failed before. According to Stabenow and Crapo, more than 500 counties across 46 states have reported critical veterinarian shortages. They say this bill is needed to improve care for livestock and poultry while also addressing local food safety and health concerns.

“Quality veterinary care is essential to the agricultural economy and public health in rural communities in Michigan and across the country,” Stabenow says. “But too many communities lack the veterinary services they need. This bipartisan bill will provide incentives to veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply.”

Additional Senators signing onto the bill include Angus King, D-Maine, Cindy Hyde-Smith, R- Miss., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., John Boozman, R-Ark., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Patty Murray, D-Wash., and James Risch, R-Idaho.

Bill supporters say the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Congress created in 2003 has become inadequate. Federal tax withholding laws limit the amount beneficiaries truly receive. The Rural Veterinary Workforce Act would create tax exemptions for payments received under this and similar programs. That change would allow vets to receive tax incentives similar to doctors and other health professionals.

American Veterinary Medical Association president Dr. Rena Carlson says the bill will help keep the nations’ livestock healthy and food supply safe.

“The AVMA has been a long-time champion of the proposed legislation,” Carlson says. “After the legislation received a historic level of support in the previous Congress, we look forward to working with the congressional champions to enact this bill and help rural communities across the country access the many essential services veterinarians provide.”

More than 100 national and state organizations signed a public letter urging Congress to pass the bill. A similar House bill was introduced by Reps. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., John Larson, D-Conn., Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. earlier this summer.

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