In many rural communities, farm animals far exceed veterinary capacity. For instance, one slice of northwestern Kansas is home to a cattle population of 240,500 but served by only eight Level II accredited veterinarians whose practice focuses on food animals, creating an animal-to-practitioner ratio of 30,062:1. Considering these numbers, it’s no surprise the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has declared this region a “critical” veterinary shortage area.
Across the country, too many regions continue to suffer from similar veterinary shortages. This puts food safety at risk and leaves many farm animals vulnerable to disease.
The good news is that these shortages are being reduced through targeted federal funding programs, including NIFA’s Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which offers up to $75,000 in loan repayment to veterinarians who commit to serve at least three years in a designated veterinary shortage area. Since its enactment in 2010, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program has helped send 388 veterinarians to serve in shortage areas.
Last week, NIFA announced that $4.2 million will be available to fund veterinary loan repayment through this important program this year. This is great news for food animal producers who need increased access to veterinary care, as well as the veterinarians who are interested in serving in shortage areas.
Veterinarians who want to participate in the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program can learn more and apply on NIFA’s website. Applications are due by May 26.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that not every shortage area will be filled through this program. The reason is simple – there’s just not enough funding to go around. That’s why the AVMA is working hard to support legislation that would increase the available funding by eliminating a 39 percent income tax withholding requirement applied to each VMLRP award. The withholding requirement reduces by 39 percent the amount of money NIFA actually can provide to grant recipients under the program, so eliminating it would effectively increase available funding by that amount for the program. Without the withholding requirement, approximately 130 additional veterinarians could have participated in the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program since 2010 – a nearly 33 percent increase.
If you want to help support the VMLRP Enhancement Act, you can visit our Congressional Advocacy Network to send a pre-written letter to your members of Congress asking them to support this legislation. This quick and easy action can make a big difference.
Another piece of good news is that the VMLRP isn’t NIFA’s only program addressing rural veterinary shortages. The Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP) offers grants on a competitive basis to support the development, implementation and sustainability of veterinary services in shortage areas. For instance, grants are available to help food supply veterinarians purchase equipment or to fund education programs for food animal medicine. NIFA recently announced $2.4 million in funding available through this program, and applications are due by May 19. You can read about last year’s recipients here.
Programs like the VSGP and the VMLRP are valuable because they help agricultural communities while also providing economic opportunities for veterinarians – that’s a win-win. The AVMA plans to continue working to strengthen these programs, because our country has a long way to go in supporting our food supply veterinarians and the communities they serve.