WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that 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," said Vilsack. "This program will help alleviate the shortage of trained professional veterinarians that 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 veterinary shortage 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 resulting in a degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or the equivalent. NIFA applications will be 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 website.

NIFA recently designated more than 150 shortage areas throughout the United States. These areas were nominated by the chief animal health officials in each state and insular area and by appropriate federal animal health officials. Nomination forms were reviewed by a panel of federal and state animal health experts who recommended nominations for official designation as a veterinary shortage situation. A map of all the shortage areas is available on the NIFA website.

Veterinarians are critical to the national food safety and food security infrastructures, and to the health and well-being of both animals and humans; however, major studies indicate significant and growing shortages of food supply veterinarians and veterinarians serving in certain other high priority specialty areas. A leading cause for this shortage is the heavy cost of four years of professional veterinary medical training, which can average between $130,000 and $140,000. Congress established the VMLRP as a way to remedy this growing need.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov