The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is taking steps to address veterinary shortages in rural America. The agency says 74 food animal and public health veterinarians will get educational loan assistance in exchange for a three-year commitment to practice in a USDA-designated veterinary shortage area. The awards were handed out as part of the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program. It’s designed to help protect animal welfare and public health in rural communities by make sure there’s adequate access to veterinary services. John de Jong (de-YOUNG), president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says farmers and ranchers depend on veterinarians to keep their animals healthy. “Access to veterinary care in rural areas is critical because animal diseases have a direct impact on local economies and public health,” de Jong says. “This program is one of the best tools available to help address veterinary shortages. We’re grateful Congress recognized its importance by providing a $1.5 million increase in program funding.” Since its inception, the program has placed veterinarians in federally-designated shortage areas across 45 states. However, 113 shortage areas remain unfilled this year.