Bennet Backs Bill to End Veterinarian Shortfall in Rural Areas

Fifteen Colorado Counties Currently Do Not Have Food Animal Veterinarians, Eight Only Have One

Washington, DC – Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, 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 trade in areas where they are needed the most.”

Currently, 15 Colorado counties do not have any food animal veterinarians and eight others have only one. The shortages are felt most acutely in Cheyenne, Conejos, Crowley and Logan 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 legislation 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 VMLPR 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 VMLPR to increase the number of veterinarians selected by one-third.

Congress has acted in the past to maximize the impact 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.