Attempting to address veterinary shortages in rural America, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is accepting applications from veterinarians wishing to participate in the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

The program will repay the student loans of qualified veterinarians in return for their services in areas suffering from a lack of veterinarians. 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.

“I know firsthand that there are areas in Louisiana and the country that are underserved when it comes to veterinary care,” said Mike Strain, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner. “I think this program will help get trained veterinarians where they are most needed.”

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the program on April 30.

“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.”

More than 150 U.S. locations were identified as having a critical shortage of food animal veterinarians. Parishes in Louisiana designated with a food animal veterinary care shortage were St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Ouachita, Richland, West Carroll, East Carroll, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Plaquemines, Natchitoches, Sabine and Vernon.

“We need more veterinarians in these areas to help our food animal producers,” said Strain. “Veterinary care is essential for the national food safety and food security infrastructures as well as the health and well-being of animals and humans.”

Major studies indicate significant and growing shortage 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.

The deadline to apply for the VMLRP is June 30. Offers of acceptance will be made by Sept. 30. Application forms can be found on the NIFA website at www.nifa.usda.gov.