USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture NIFA) will begin accepting applications today from veterinarians wishing to participate in the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which addresses veterinary shortages in rural America by repaying the student loans of qualified veterinarians in return for their services in areas suffering from a lack of veterinarians.

“The lack of adequate veterinary services, especially in the area of food animal medicine, creates hardships for producers and endangers livestock throughout rural America,” explains Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This program will help alleviate the shortage of trained professional veterinarians who serve our producers, improving the health of the livestock industry and helping ensure a safe food supply.”

In return for a commitment of three years of veterinary services in a designated area, NIFA may repay up to $25,000 of student loan debt per year. Loan repayment benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received for the attendance at an accredited college of veterinary medicine that resulted in a doctor of veterinary medicine degree or the equivalent.

NIFA applications are due June 30 and offers will be made by Sept. 30. NIFA will host four interactive webinars for applicants on May 4 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and May 12 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Application forms and webinar instructions can be found on the NIFA Web site, http://www.nifa.usda.gov.

NIFA officials have designated more than 150 veterinary shortage areas throughout the United States. A map of all the shortage areas is available on the NIFA Web site.

A leading cause of veterinary shortage is the high cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training, which can average between $130,000 and $140,000. Congress established the VMLRP as a means to remedy this growing need.