The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture has published the final rule for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

The rule, published Monday in the Federal Register, outlines criteria for both the shortage situation designations and applicant eligibility for the loan repayment program. The program was authorized by the National Veterinary Medical Service Act to bring student debt relief to veterinarians that agree to serve in areas that may impact animal or public health.

The publication of final rules means that the program, first approved in 2003, can soon begin accepting applicants. NIFA expects to make applications available to interested veterinarians at the end of this month.

Awards should be made by the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2010.

AVMA leaders, who have spent nearly 10 years championing the program and funding for it, were ecstatic that debt relief will soon be made available for veterinarians working in underserved areas.

"This is the culmination of years of effort by America's veterinarians and by the USDA to help get this program launched," said Ron DeHaven, DVM, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "The AVMA is committed to continue working with NIFA to ensure the program is successfully implemented, and we will continue to advocate with Congress for annual funding for the program and to make the program tax exempt."

The AVMA anticipates that a large number of veterinarians are interested in applying for the program, and it will continue to advocate for increased funding for VMLRP.

The complete rule is available on the U.S. Government Printing Office web site

Source: AVMA