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Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to address the shortfall of veterinarians in rural areas. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act would help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.

“Veterinarians provide essential support for the agricultural economy in so many rural areas and small towns in Michigan and nationwide,” said Senator Stabenow. “But too many places lack the veterinary services they need. This bipartisan bill will provide incentives for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply.”

“Qualified veterinarians in agricultural communities across the nation are a key part of maintaining animal health and welfare, and ensuring ranchers and farmers have access to care for their livestock,” said Senator Crapo. “Overly burdensome federal taxes on the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program limit the reach of the program’s benefits, and addressing those limitations would allow more veterinarians to have the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are in critical need.”

“Expanding the VMLRP means more veterinarians will receive student loan relief and there will be more access to veterinary care in rural areas across the country – a win-win for the profession,” said Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “The AVMA is grateful our leaders in Congress are supporting legislation that removes the tax on service awards and maximizes the effectiveness of the VMLRP. We will use this momentum to build broad support for the bill and send it to the President’s desk.”

To help address the shortage in essential veterinary services in rural areas across the country, Congress in 2003 established the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). This program assists selected food animal and public health veterinarians with student loan repayment for a three-year commitment to practice in areas of the country facing a veterinarian shortage. This program helps veterinarians pay down their student loan debt so that they can afford to start a practice where it’s most needed.

Currently, the VMLRP is subject to a significant federal withholding tax on the assistance provided to qualifying veterinarians. This limits the resources available for the program, as well as the reach of its benefits. The Stabenow-Crapo legislation will address this by providing an exemption from the federal income withholding tax for payments received under the VMLRP and similar state programs, helping give more veterinarians the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are needed.