USDA awards $4.5 million in veterinary loan repayments


Program provides up to $25,000 per year to veterinarians who work in high-need areas.

Recipients of loan repayment awards work in one of three shortage situations: food animal medicine, rural practice or public health. Photo by Getty Images.The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Nov. 5 awarded more than $4.5 million to 49 U.S. veterinarians to help repay a portion of their veterinary school loans in return for serving in areas lacking sufficient veterinary resources. The awards, made through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will help fill shortages in 26 states.

“Rural America is challenged with recruiting veterinarians,” says John Clifford, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the USDA, in an agency release. “These professionals often face high student loan debt, leading them to work in locations with larger populations and higher pay. This program offers loan-repayment assistance to veterinarians, allowing them to fill shortages and work in rural areas, ultimately improving the well-being of livestock and providing an abundant and safe food supply for America.”

Studies indicate significant shortages of food animal veterinarians in certain areas of the country and in high-priority specialty sectors that require advanced training, such as food safety, epidemiology, diagnostic medicine and public health, the release states. A leading cause for this shortage is the heavy cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training, which leaves current graduates of veterinary colleges with a mean debt burden of $135,283, according to the USDA.

Recipients of the loan repayment awards are required to commit to three years of veterinary service in a designated veterinary shortage area. Benefits are limited to payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received for attendance at an American Veterinary Medical Association-accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a doctor of veterinary medicine degree or the equivalent.

Loan repayments made by the VMLRP are taxable income to participants. Also included in the award is a federal tax payment equal to 39 percent of the loan payment to offset the increase in income tax liability. A bill in Congress, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Enhancement Act, would eliminate the 39 percent tax, allowing those funds to potentially be used for additional awards.

This is the third year NIFA has made renewal awards through VMLRP. Previous awardees with educational debt surpassing $75,000, the maximum award amount, are eligible to apply for a renewal award. Renewal applications follow the same competitive review process as new applications, and submission of a renewal application does not necessarily mean the veterinarian will received continued VMLRP benefits.

In fiscal year 2015, NIFA received 137 applications and made 49 awards. Below is a breakdown of the fiscal year 2015 awards:

  • Applications received: 137

  • Awards granted: 49

  • Funds awarded: $4,583,623 (includes loan and tax payments), averaging $95,543 each

  • Average eligible debt for repayment on new awards: $112,923

  • Number of new recipients who received the maximum payment of $25,000 per year (plus taxes): 34 of 44, or 77 percent

  • Number of new recipients who obtained their DVM within the last three years (2013-2015): 17 of 44, or 39 percent.

An online map is available on the NIFA website describing each shortage area filled in fiscal year 2015.

Participants are required to serve in one of three types of shortage situations. Awardees filling Type 1 shortages areas must dedicate at least 80 percent of their time to provision of food animal veterinary services. Type 2 shortages are rural areas in which awardees are obligated to provide food animal veterinary services at least 30 percent of their time. Type 3 shortage areas are dedicated to public practice and awardees must commit at least 49 percent of their time. Twenty-six states will fill at least one shortage area through a new VMLRP award.

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