USDA last week awarded more than $4.5 million to 49 American veterinarians to help repay a portion of their veterinary school loans in return for serving in areas lacking sufficient veterinary resources.
The awards, made through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will help fill shortages in 26 states.
According to USDA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. John Clifford, veterinarians often face high student loan debt, leading them to work in locations with larger populations and higher pay.
"This program offers loan-repayment assistance to veterinarians, allowing them to fill shortages and work in rural areas, ultimately improving the well-being of livestock and providing an abundant and safe food supply for America," Clifford said.
Studies indicate there are significant shortages of food animal veterinarians in certain areas of the country, and in high-priority specialty sectors that require advanced training, such as food safety, epidemiology, diagnostic medicine and public health, USDA said.
A leading cause for this shortage is the heavy cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training which leaves current graduates of veterinary colleges with a mean debt burden of $135,283.
Recipients are required to commit to three years of veterinary service in a designated veterinary shortage area. Loan repayment benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received for attendance at an American Veterinary Medical Association-accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree or the equivalent.
Loan repayments made by the VMLRP are taxable income to participants. Also included in the award is a federal tax payment equal to 39% of the loan payment to offset the increase in income tax liability.
This is the third year NIFA has made renewal awards through VMLRP. Previous awardees with educational debt surpassing $75,000, the maximum award amount, are eligible to apply for a renewal award. Renewal applications follow the same competitive review process as new applications, and submission of a renewal application does not necessarily mean the veterinarian will received continued VMLRP benefits.
In fiscal year 2015, NIFA received 137 applications and made 49 awards. An online map is available describing each shortage area filled in FY 2015.
Participants are required to serve in one of three types of shortage situations. Awardees filling Type 1 shortages areas must dedicate at least 80% of their time to provision of food animal veterinary services. Type 2 shortages are rural areas in which awardees are obligated to provide food animal veterinary services at least 30% of their time. Type 3 shortage areas are dedicated to public practice and awardees must commit at least 49% of their time.