Washington, DC — Our country faces a critical shortage of veterinarians and veterinary medical services in certain areas designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Legislation introduced today by U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, aims to direct resources to help solve the problems.
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) President Dr. Larry Kornegay hailed the introduction of the Veterinary Services Investment Act (VSIA) as an important step toward addressing veterinary workforce needs.
S. 1053, the Veterinary Services Investment Act will establish a competitive grant program to develop, implement and sustain necessary veterinary medical services to those areas of the country in need.
“Shortages of large- and mixed-animal, as well as public health, veterinarians could have dire consequences on human and animal health, public safety, animal welfare, disease surveillance and economic development. The USDA has worked with state animal health officials all across the country to identify areas that have dire needs,” said Dr. Kornegay. “The fact is, this legislation will directly help address these needs, ensuring the well-being of livestock and helping protect public health.”
“Veterinary services are critical in ensuring a strong and robust agricultural industry in Michigan, and too many rural areas are lacking adequate support,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “This legislation will address veterinarian shortages while also creating good-paying jobs, improving food safety and continuing to strengthen Michigan’s agricultural sector which supports one in four jobs in Michigan. As Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I’m focused on helping our agricultural sector to continue to grow and create jobs, and this bill will help to do that.”
“Veterinary care shortages, particularly in rural areas, can pose security risks for food safety, animal health and public health. This legislation would help alleviate those shortages by awarding grants to support growth in areas where veterinary services are most needed,” said U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). “It is written to create incentives for veterinary schools and their students to work in underserved areas that currently lack important access to animal health care.”
According to the AVMA, there are 500 counties in the U.S. that have at least 5,000 farm animals but no veterinarians in the area to treat them.
“The demand for veterinarians across the United States could increase by 14 percent by 2016,” said Dr. Kornegay. “This shortage not only affects the well-being of farmers and livestock but can have negative public health consequences.”
The American public relies on veterinarians to safeguard their food supply and monitor the threat of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted between animals and people), such as avian influenza (bird flu). Over the last 25 years, 75 percent of all the emerging diseases in people were zoonotic.
Specifically, the legislation will provide grants for:
- Assistance for establishing or expanding veterinary practices or establishing mobile veterinary facilities;
- Veterinarian, technician, and student recruitment;
- Attendance at training programs in food safety or food animal medicine;
- Establishment or expansion of accredited education, internship, residency, and fellowship programs;
- Continuing education and extension, including tele-veterinary medicine and other distance-based education; and,
- Research assessing the veterinarian shortage situations.
U.S. Senators cosponsoring the legislation include Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii); Michael Bennet (D-Colo.); Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia); Kent Conrad (D-N.D.); Al Franken (D-Minn.); Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Tim Johnson (D-S.D.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); and Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
For more information about this legislation and the large-animal veterinarian shortage, visit www.avma.org.