Comments solicited for loan repayment program

Published on February 18, 2010
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Feedback is being solicited before the launch of a federal government program intended to fill a shortage of veterinarians working in needed areas.

The Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture issued two Federal Register notices in late January, the first soliciting comments for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program application process and the second calling for state animal health officials to nominate veterinary shortage situations within their respective states for eligibility.

The VMLRP was authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Service Act passed by Congress more than seven years ago. The program will help qualified veterinarians offset a substantial portion of their educational debt in return for service in certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations (see JAVMA, Sept. 1, 2009).

The first notice gives the public 60 days—or until March 22—to comment on the proposed application forms and program reporting requirements for the VMLRP that will be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review and approval. Anyone interested may submit comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, Follow the instructions for submitting comments, or e-mail vmlrpatnifa [dot] usda [dot] gov. Include the text "VMLRP Application Forms" in the subject line of the message.

The second notice solicits nominations from state animal health officials to identify underserved geographic and practice areas within their respective states. They have 45 days—or until March 8—to submit their nominations. Once selected, designated shortage areas eligible for placement of a VMLRP recipient will be published by the USDA in the Federal Register.

It is expected that on April 30, the Federal Register will publish the call for applications for the VMLRP. Applicants then will have 60 days to apply for the program. Offers to selected individuals will be made by Sept. 30.

"It is essential for state animal health officials to work with state veterinary medical associations and other stakeholders to identify shortage areas and nominate them for inclusion in the program," said Dr. Mark T. Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

The AVMA GRD has sent the two notices to state and allied executives in the hopes these organizations may work with state animal health officials on identifying shortage areas.

Gina Luke, assistant director in the AVMA GRD, said if an area is not nominated then it will stand no chance of obtaining the designation as such from USDA.�Only designated shortage areas will be eligible for veterinarians receiving loan repayment.�Three states—California, Colorado, and Texas—may submit eight nominations. Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin may submit seven.�All other states range from two and six nominations. Most of the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia are limited to one nomination each.

The AVMA has strongly advocated for the loan repayment program, including testifying before Congress about how the program can help alleviate the growing shortage of veterinarians working in needed areas, such as food animal medicine, epidemiology, food safety, or public health.�Securing funding for VMLRP has been AVMA's highest appropriations priority since the program was authorized in 2003. Congress has appropriated a total of $9.8 million for the program.