Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had taken the first step toward implementing a plan to address veterinary shortages throughout rural America by repaying the student loans of qualified veterinarians in return for their services in areas suffering from a lack of veterinarians.
USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). NIFA asked for comments and nominations for shortage situations from the chief animal health official from each state. Guidance on what constitutes a shortage situation and nomination forms can be found www.nifa.usda.gov/nea/animals/in_focus/an_health_if_vmlrp.html. Nomination forms are due March 8.
NIFA will convene a panel of federal and state animal health experts to recommend submitted nomination packages for official designation as a veterinary shortage situation. The public will be able to review designated veterinary shortage situations in list and/or map form, along with information describing the nature of the shortage situation.
NIFA expects to begin accepting applications from veterinarians wishing to participate in the program on April 30, 2010. In return for a commitment of three years of veterinary services in a designated veterinary shortage area, NIFA may repay up to $25,000 of student loan debt per year. Loan repayment benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received for the attendance at an accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or the equivalent. NIFA projects applications will be due June 30, and offers will be made by Sept. 30.
Veterinarians are critical to the national food safety and food security infrastructures and to the health and well-being of both animals and humans; however, major studies indicate significant and growing shortages of food-supply veterinarians and veterinarians serving in certain other high-priority specialty areas. A leading cause for this shortage is the heavy cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training, which can average between $130,000 and $140,000. Congress established the VMLRP as a way to remedy this growing need.