October 26, 2017

Now say it five times fast

By Matt Kuhn

The Extern on the Hill program is multifaceted. During our brief stint in DC, part of the externship is to network and meet many veterinarians and scientists in the area, which I touched on in a previous blog post. Another aspect that we spend a significant amount of time on is meeting with congressmen and congresswomen from our home state, and at times other states, to discuss some of the topics and bills that are impactful to veterinary medicine.

At the moment, one of the most opportunistic bills to discuss is the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA). My externship coincides with a very pivotal time in the course of this bill, as it has been introduced in several sessions of congress now, not yet having the support or timing to get passed through each house. As a well-supported, bi-partisan bill introduced in both the house and senate, it has the potential to be moved along and with tax reform and the 2018 Farm Bill both looming on the horizon, there are potential vehicles to do so. This is a moment where both support and timing come together to give a bill the best opportunity possible to become law. The key for me, at this opportune moment, is to bolster the support side of the equation.

The VMLRPEA looks to improve a program that has been successful in bringing primarily food animal veterinarians to areas of rural America that need them most. Currently, this program identifies regions in each state that are in critical need of food animal veterinary services and entices veterinarians to come and fill those voids through a $75,000 loan repayment program paid out over three years. The program is a win win for all those involved. Veterinarians have a means to pay off a portion of their student loans and receive a stable position in the community while farmers and their animals receive the veterinary care they desperately need. While hundreds of veterinarians have taken advantage of this program, there are still many unfilled positions every year, and not due to lack of applications. One of the reasons for this is a 39% tax that is placed upon the award given to veterinarians. Thankfully, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who runs the program picks up this tax so that veterinarians may still receive their full loan repayment amount. The pitfall to this is that of the money appropriated to the USDA for the VMLRP, over a third of it is now going straight back to the government and limiting how many positions can be awarded.

My home state of Michigan has been fortunate enough to have several of our critical areas of need filled through this program over the past few years. That being so, several slots have also been applied for but remain unfilled; the same story told over and over again in every agricultural state. This bill is good for veterinarians, good for farmers and ranchers, and most importantly good for the animals, who deserve proper veterinary care.

If you would like to support this effort yourself, I encourage you to visit the AVMA’s Congressional Advocacy Network page to learn more about the this bill and the AVMA’s efforts in its passage. Additionally, information on how to contact your representatives is available on this website. If you would like to make it more personal, write a hand-written letter or better yet, meet them in person; all representatives have offices in their home state and are always happy to meet with constituents when in town.