USDA awards nearly $6 million to veterinarians serving in shortage areas

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The Agriculture Department's National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced Nov. 9 that it will offer 62 rural veterinarians awards totaling nearly $6 million to repay their veterinary school loans in return for providing veterinary services in areas experiencing a veterinary shortage.

The awards were made through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. Recipients are required to commit to three years of veterinary service in a designated veterinary shortage area.

"These awards will bring trained veterinarians back to rural areas to serve producers, improve the health of the livestock industry, and ensure a safe food supply," said NIFA Director Roger Beachy.

Veterinarians are critical to the national food safety and food security infrastructures and to the health and well-being of animals and humans. Studies indicate significant and growing shortages of food supply veterinarians and veterinarians serving in certain other high-priority areas, however.

A leading cause for this shortage is the heavy cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training. Graduate veterinarians have a mean educational debt load of $133,873. Congress established the VMLRP as a way of attracting more veterinarians into shortage areas.

VMLRP benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received for attendance at an AVMA Council on Education-accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a DVM degree or the equivalent. Loan repayments made by the VMLRP are taxable income to participants. Legislation pending in Congress would eliminate that tax, however.

Included in the award is a federal tax payment equal to 39 percent of the loan payment, made directly to the awardee's IRS tax account to offset the increase in income tax liability.

Following is a breakdown of the fiscal year 2010 awards:

  • The 62 awards totaled $5,998,080 (including loan and tax payments).
  • Average award was $96,582 (including loan and tax payments).
  • Average eligible debt for repayment was $98,672.
  • 65 percent of recipients received the maximum payment of $25,000 per year (plus taxes).
  • 65 percent of awards went to those who obtained their DVM degree within the past three years.
  • 34 states will fill at least one shortage area through the VMLRP.
  • Iowa will fill five shortage areas.
  • Idaho, Kansas, and Texas will fill four shortage areas.
  • Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and South Dakota will fill three shortage areas.

Participants are required to serve in one of three types of shortage situations. Type 1 shortage areas are private practices dedicated to food animal medicine at least 80 percent of the time. Type 2 shortages are private practices in rural areas dedicated to food animal medicine up to 30 percent of the time. Type 3 shortage areas are dedicated to public practice up to 49 percent of the time.

Type 1 shortage areas received 24 awards; type 2, 32 awards; and type 3, six awards.

For more information about the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, click on