If you are looking to expand your services or pursue training to better serve rural clients in underserved areas, the USDA’s Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP) might be for you. The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently hosted a webinar to outline the program, which along with the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, aims to improve access to veterinary services in rural areas currently experiencing shortages.

Dr. Gary Sherman, NIFA national program leader for veterinary medicine and agro-security led the discussion. The Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP) is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, and $2.5 million, was appropriated to fund the program in the FY 2016 budget. NIFA currently is accepting public comments on the program and plans to issue a request for applications in April. Sherman says grant applications will be due in May or June, with peer review taking place through August and the first grants awarded under the program announced by Sept. 30. The program focuses specifically on food-supply veterinarians and those engaged in public health programs in rural areas.

The VSGP will provide grants of two types; educational grants and equipment grants. The education grants aim to relieve veterinarian shortage situations through education, extension and training programs. The equipment grants intend to establish or expand veterinary clinical practices and shortage situations designated by the veterinary medicine loan repayment program in rural areas. Equipment grants cannot be used to build new facilities or expand existing facilities, but could be used for a clinic to purchase equipment, such as a mobile vet clinic, to help serve clients in remote areas.

NIFA will consider grant applications from several types of United States-based entities including:

1.       For-profit and non-profit individuals operating a veterinary clinic that provides veterinary service in a VMLRP-designated shortage situation and in a rural area as defined.

2.       State, national, allied or regional veterinary organizations or specialty boards recognized by the AVMA.

3.       Colleges or schools of veterinary medicines accredited by the AVMA.

4.       University research of veterinary medical foundations.

5.       Departments of veterinary science or comparative medicine accredited by the Department of Education.

6.       State agricultural experiment stations.

7.       State, local or tribal agencies.

Sherman says qualified applicants may receive grants to carry out programs or activities that will substantially relieve veterinarian shortage situations or support or facilitate private veterinary practices engaged in public health activities.  

NIFA currently is accepting public comments on the grant program, and Sherman listed several questions they hope to address through public comments. These include:

·         Of the $2.5 million available this year for VSGP, how much should be devoted to the education component of this program versus the equipment grants program?

·         How should veterinary public health activities be defined?

·         What proportion of the practice needs to be engaged in public health activities?

·         Given the expedited timeline and limited funding, how should NIFA prioritize education projects? Should the focus be on recruitment, continuing education, technical assistance, strengthening the academic pipeline? Should they emphasize projects for current practitioners or is there some other focus that this education component of this grant program should focus on?

·         What types of equipment should be eligible and should any be excluded?

·         What are reasonable overhead costs for equipment grants and what portion of the equipment grants awarded should address education or extension needs?

·         How long should a term of service be and what should the minimum award amount be? Should there be a minimum term of service regardless of the award amount?

Find more information, including a transcript of the webinar and instructions for submitting comments on NIFA’s Veterinary Services Grant Program web site.