Veterinary services legislation introduced in congress

New legislation addressing the nation's veterinary services needs is under consideration in the House of Representatives.

The AVMA played a key role in crafting the Veterinarian Services Investment Act (H.R. 3519), which was introduced July 31 by Republican Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Democrat Leonard Boswell of Iowa and had 17 co-sponsors as of mid-August.

The bipartisan VSIA would establish a grant program designed to relieve veterinary shortages while supporting a broad range of veterinary services, including veterinarian and veterinary technician recruitment and retention, and continuing education programs. The grant amount will be determined by Congress.

The legislation is the latest federal effort to shore up a nationwide decline in important veterinary services, especially in the areas of food animal medicine and public health. The Veterinary Public Health Workforce and Education Act (H.R. 2999), for example, would create a competitive, multimillion-dollar grant program for veterinary colleges and other institutions offering graduate training in veterinary public health.

In addition, the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, which is in the process of being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, created the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program to encourage veterinarians to work in underserviced areas in exchange for school loan repayment.

"Not a day goes by that I don't hear about the damage caused by the shortage of large animal veterinarians in our district and our nation," said Rep. Eric Massa, a VSIA co-sponsor.

"In upstate New York," Massa continued, "the shortage of large animal veterinarians costs our farmers millions of dollars each year, and by making a meaningful investment in the education of our young people, we can take a long-term approach toward improving this situation."

If the VSIA is passed, grant funds could be used in the following ways:

  • Recruit, place, and retain veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students, and veterinary technology students.
  • Assist veterinarians with establishing or expanding practices by equipping veterinary offices, sharing in the overhead costs of such practices, or establishing mobile veterinary facilities that will at least in part address education or extension needs.
  • Provide financial assistance for expenses other than tuition for veterinary students, veterinary interns and externs, fellows and residents, and veterinary technician students to attend training programs in food safety or food animal medicine.
  • Support programs, in coordination with accredited colleges of veterinary medicine, that establish or expand accredited education programs, veterinary residency and fellowship programs, and veterinary internship and externship programs.
  • Support programs for tele-veterinary medicine that contribute at least in part to veterinary extension, education, or research.
  • Support the ability of state veterinarians or animal health officials to coordinate veterinary services and food protection issues.
  • Assess veterinary shortage areas.
  • Support continuing education and extension programs, including distance-based education, for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other health professionals that will strengthen veterinary programs and enhance food safety.
  • Recruit and retain faculty at AVMA-accredited veterinary schools and colleges.
  • Support programs, in coordination with universities or local education agencies, to encourage students in secondary schools to pursue a career in veterinary medicine or other science professions.

Among those who would be eligible to apply for a grant are for-profit and nonprofit veterinary clinics located in rural areas and "a state, national, allied, or regional veterinary organization, a specialty board, or veterinary medical association" recognized by the AVMA.

Veterinary colleges, university research and veterinary medical foundations, departments of veterinary science and comparative medicine, state agricultural experiment stations, and state, local, and tribal government agencies would also be eligible to apply for grants under the VSIA.

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