A federal notice was published April 30 inviting applications for the Department of Agriculture's Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which will provide student loan debt relief for service in designated shortage areas across the United States.
Earlier in April, the AVMA applauded the Agriculture Department's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for publishing the final rule for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.
The rule, published April 19 in the Federal Register, outlines criteria for designating veterinary shortage situations and applicant eligibility for the loan repayment program. The program was authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Service Act to bring student debt relief to veterinarians who agree to practice in designated veterinary shortage situations.
Approximately $9.6 million is available for NIFA to administer the program. Funding for future years will be based on annual appropriations and balances from prior years, and will likely vary from year to year.
Participants may receive up to $25,000 in loan payments for each year of service, with a minimum of three years of service but no more than four. Applications will be accepted until June 30, with awards being offered by Sept. 30.
NIFA also released maps of state- and federally designated shortage areas on its Web site, along with eligibility requirements, FAQs, and application forms.
AVMA leaders, who have spent the better part of the past decade championing the program and funding for it, were ecstatic that debt relief will soon be made available for veterinarians working in underserved areas.
"This is the culmination of years of effort by America's veterinarians and by the USDA to help get this program launched," said Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, CEO of the AVMA. "The AVMA is committed to continue working with NIFA to ensure the program is successfully implemented, and we will continue to advocate with Congress for annual funding for the program and to make the program tax exempt."
The AVMA anticipates that a large number of veterinarians will apply for the program. Some factors contributing to what is expected to be a robust applicant pool are a struggling U.S. economy and pent-up demand for the program by veterinary graduates who have patiently awaited action by the USDA.
Additionally, the rising cost of a veterinary education has forced students to borrow increasing amounts in the form of student loans, resulting in higher educational indebtedness at graduation. In 2009, the mean debt for graduating students who incurred debt was $129,976, while the mean starting salary for private practice veterinarians was $65,185, according to the AVMA.
There also continues to be a great need for more veterinarians across the country. Approximately 1,300 counties have fewer than one food supply veterinarian per 25,000 farm animals, and there are 500 counties with at least 5,000 farm animals that have no food supply veterinarians to treat them, according to the AVMA.
The complete rule is available on the U.S. Government Printing Office Web site. The AVMA has posted information about the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program.