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VET MED Act introduced to alleviate veterinary student debt

Bill would help address challenge of high debt and ensure nation has enough highly trained veterinarians.

Two veterinarians in Congress, Reps. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) and Ted Yoho (R., Fla.). introduced the bipartisan Veterinary Education & Training Minimizes Educational Debt (H.R. 6134) Act. The federal legislation will help alleviate the cost of additional training for veterinarians.

The VET MED Act is seen as a simple way to eliminate a roadblock facing veterinarians who want to train for specialized fields, such as large and small animal surgery, equine medicine and oncology.

The VET MED Act will allow veterinary students serving in internship or residency programs to be eligible for interest-free deferment on their student loans during their residency. Veterinary student loan debt is a top issue for veterinarians and can create a financial barrier for them post-graduation and for decades afterwards. In 2016, the average education debt for vet school graduates was $143,758, and more than 20% of them had at least $200,000 in debt.

“There is a debt crisis in the veterinary community,” Schrader said. “Young vets are often crippled with debts in the six figures. My bill will help ease the repayment burden by allowing recent graduates to defer their loans while they are in residency and internship programs. This is an important step in fostering the talents of the next generation of veterinarians.”

The American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) has taken a leadership role in advocating for the bill. Currently, veterinarians who enter residencies, internships or Ph.D. programs are required to make payments on their educational loans -- which continue to accrue significant interest -- during their time spent in training. This can present significant challenges to recruit veterinarians for specialized training. In 2019, for example, the average residency salary was about $34,000, AVMA said.

“Veterinary students working toward a professional degree should not incur interest while in residency or training,” Yoho said. “This bill will ensure this will not happen, thus lowering their student loan burden, and make sure our best and brightest veterinary students remain on track.”

The VET MED Act is especially important because interest accumulation can escalate quickly for veterinarians. For veterinary students borrowing to cover the cost of education, interest accumulation may range from $27,000 to $40,000. This represents a significant burden added to their repayment before they even graduate, and the prospect of further interest accumulation may discourage veterinarians from entering high-need specialty fields.

“This bill is extremely important for the veterinary school graduates who go on to additional training in internships and residencies to become boarded specialists,” said Dr. Susan J. Tornquist, dean of Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University. “The majority of these veterinarians have significant student debt, and in choosing advanced training, they are delaying their ability to earn the kinds of salaries necessary to repay their student loans. This bill acknowledges that the financial stresses associated with specialty training in veterinary medicine are the same, if not greater than, those associated with specialty training in the medical and dental fields. We strongly support Rep. Schrader’s bill."

“Residencies and internships are critical to preparing veterinarians for high-need specialties like emergency medicine, oncology and large-animal medicine, but during this time spent in additional training, veterinary borrowers face massive interest accumulation that can make loan repayment feel insurmountable. The VET MED Act is an important step toward alleviating this debt burden, and we’re thankful to Reps. Schrader and Yoho for introducing this bill,” AVMA president Dr. John Howe said.

“Advancements in veterinary medical clinical care and rising client demand for high-level diagnostic and therapeutic services have increased the number of veterinarians who choose to conduct post-[doctorate of veterinary medicine] clinical training programs on the path to earning specialty board certification,” Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges chief executive officer Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe said. “This legislation will help these individuals better manage the educational debt that is often required to finance their training programs. We are extremely grateful to Congressman Schrader for his leadership on this bill, and we also appreciate the important work he and Congressman Yoho are doing on behalf of the veterinary medical profession and the public it serves through the Veterinary Medicine Caucus.”

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