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New law to help repay veterinary school debt

New legislation encourages veterinary assistance in underserved areas by helping veterinarians repay student loans. These veterinarians may also guard against foreign and domestic disease outbreaks or agro-terrorist threats.

MSU College of Veterinary Medicine Dean John U. Thomson said his experiences as a rural large-animal veterinarian gave him an understanding of the need for other veterinarians who are willing to work in underserved areas.

“I spent the first 20 years of my career in a rural area in southern Iowa working with livestock,” Thomson said. “The infrastructure has been eroding, and it became obvious to me that we needed to encourage young veterinary graduates to consider working in these rural areas.”

The veterinarian shared his concerns with U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi about five years ago. He was so convincing that President Bush signed into law the Veterinary Medical Services Act in December 2003. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., also supported the legislation.

“We're now in the process of determining how the program should be administered and the general workings of the program,” Thomson said. “We know that the average student's debt continues to increase and continues to dictate choosing more lucrative financial opportunities. We believe this program will help to fill those areas that are in need of assistance.”

While the total amount has not been determined, Thomson said a significant amount of veterinary student debt will be forgiven for each year a veterinarian practices in an underserved area.

“This legislation is a common sense solution to our veterinarian shortage in many areas of this country,” Pickering said last year. “With the growing threat of agro-terrorism and fears of foreign disease like mad cow, this bill would create the manpower for a veterinarian ‘national guard’ that would serve as our front line defense and intelligence service for animal health concerns.”

The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and enjoyed bipartisan support.

“This legislation has been the No. 1 priority of several organizations,” Thomson said. “Our profession is thankful for Congressman Pickering's vision and understanding on why our country needs this legislation. It is important to the animal health profession; it is vital to the security of our country.”

Keryn Bruister Page writes for Mississippi State University Ag Communications.

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