Implementation of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and Solicitation of Stakeholder Input
The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (NIFA) is soliciting stakeholder input on the implementation of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which is authorized under section 1415A of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (7 U.S.C. 3151a). The purpose of this program is for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enter into agreements with veterinarians under which the veterinarians agree to provide, for a specific period of time as identified in the agreement, veterinary services in veterinarian shortage situations. As part of the stakeholder input process, NIFA conducted a public meeting on Monday, September 15, 2008 to solicit comments regarding the implementing regulations to be developed for this program.
Background and Purpose
In December, 2003, the National Veterinary Medical Service Act (NVMSA) was passed into law adding section 1415a to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (NARETPA). This law established a new Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (7 U.S.C. 3151a) authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture (secretary) to carry out a program of entering into agreements with veterinarians under which they agree to provide veterinary services in veterinarian shortage situations. In November 2005, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006 (Pub. L. 109-97), appropriated $495,000 (after the 1% rescission) for NIFA to implement the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program and represented the first time funds had been appropriated for this program. In February 2007, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007 (Pub. L. 110-5), appropriated an additional $495,000 to NIFA for support of the program, and in December 2007, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (Pub. L. 110-161), appropriated an additional $868,875 (after the .7% rescission) to NIFA for support of this program. Consequently, there is approximately $1.8 million available for NIFA to administer this program.
As enacted on June 18, 2008, section 7105 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (FCEA) amended section 1415A to revise the determination of veterinarian shortage situations to consider (1) geographical areas that the Secretary determines have a shortage of veterinarians; and (2) areas of veterinary practice that the Secretary determines have a shortage of veterinarians, such as food animal medicine, public health, epidemiology, and food safety. This section also added that priority should be given to agreements with veterinarians for the practice of food animal medicine in veterinarian shortage situations.
Section 1415A of the NARETPA requires the Secretary, when determining the amount of repayment for a year of service by a veterinarian, to consider the extent to which such determination affects the ability of USDA to maximize the number of agreements from the amounts appropriated and provides an incentive to serve in veterinary service shortage areas with the greatest need. This section also provides that loan repayments may consist of payments of the principal and interest on government and commercial loans received by the individual for the attendance of the individual at an accredited college of veterinary medicine resulting in a degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or the equivalent. Loans eligible for repayment include loans for tuition expenses; other reasonable educational expenses, including fees, books, and laboratory expenses, incurred by the individual; or reasonable living expenses as determined by the Secretary. In addition, the Secretary is directed to make such additional payments to participants as the Secretary determines appropriate for the purpose of providing reimbursements to participants for individual tax liability resulting from participation in this program. Finally, this section requires USDA to promulgate regulations within 270 days of the enactment of FCEA. The Secretary delegated the authority to carry out this program to NIFA.
To meet the legislatively-mandated date to promulgate regulations (i.e., within 270 days of enactment or March 14, 2009), NIFA plans to promulgate two regulations: Determination of Veterinary Shortage Situations for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program; and Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) – Administrative Provisions. NIFA plans to release a Solicitation for VMLRP Applications by May 31, 2009.
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