Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture released its Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program annual report for fiscal year 2020, during which roughly $7.2 million went to bolster veterinary services in underserved areas.
The VMLRP provides up to $25,000 a year to repay veterinary educational debt in exchange for at least three years of service in a USDA-designated veterinary shortage area. In 2021, the USDA declared 221 shortage areas in 48 states.
Since the program’s inception in 2010, NIFA has received over 1,700 VMLRP applications and awarded support to over 600 veterinarians across the country.
During the 2020 cycle, NIFA reported receiving a total of 150 applications. Loan repayment awards were made to 76 applicants—59 new awardees and 17 renewal awardees.
Highlights from the VMLRP report include the following:
- Forty-four percent of new awardees and 18% of renewal awardees had educational debt greater than $150,000.
- Twenty-five percent of new awardees and 23% of renewal awardees had educational debt from $100,001 to $150,000.
- The mean number of years after graduation for FY 2020 applicants was 4.5, with graduation year ranging from 1999-2020.
- The highest number of applicants (25) and highest number of awardees (15) were graduates of Iowa State University.
NIFA has established three VMLRP shortage classifications according to type of practice and percentage of full-time–equivalent employees needed to serve the specific needs of each shortage situation area. Percentage FTE is based on a 40-hour workweek.
Type I shortage situation areas require a commitment of at least 80% FTE to food supply private veterinary practice. Among Type I shortage situations awarded, 38% were filled by new awardees and 5% by renewal awardees.
Type II shortage situation areas are in rural areas and require a commitment of at least 30% FTE dedicated to food supply private veterinary practice. Among Type II shortage situations awarded, 29% were filled by new awardees and 22% by renewal awardees.
Type III shortage situation areas require a commitment of at least 49% FTE to public practice. NIFA reserves 10% of VMLRP awards for Type III shortage situation areas. Among Type III shortage situations awarded, 16% were filled by new awardees and 2% by renewal awardees.
As a result of a withholding tax on VMLRP awards, 37% of the federal funding provided to the program goes to the U.S. Treasury Department.
For years, the AVMA has lobbied Congress to eliminate the tax by passing the bipartisan Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, reintroduced this April in the House of Representatives (HR 2447).
“Eliminating the tax on VMLRP service awards would allow more veterinarians to reach rural communities that need their essential services,” AVMA President Douglas Kratt said in a statement.
Numerous veterinary and livestock organizations support the bill’s passage.
“Recruitment and retention of veterinarians in rural practice continue to be a challenge for the profession,” said Dr. K. Fred Gingrich, executive director of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, in a statement. “The VMLRP has proven successful with retention; however, the tax implications for the award decreases its impact factor.”