"That's especially important when you're giving away money," he says. "I know there is a fairly large contingent that points
to the neediest sector being that of the rural practicing veterinarian, but Congress votes on the act in its final form. There's
nothing in it that gives ranking of importance, and we have no authority to determine that unless studies say truly, this
is an area of shortage."
Sherman now credits two National Academies of Sciences reports released in 2005 for giving USDA guidance as well as a number
of recent peer-reviewed articles on the topic.
But those articles still provide only a fraction of the required evidence to make sweeping determinations, he says.
That lack of hard evidence leaves critics fearing rumors that USDA will earmark much of NVMSA's allocation to attracting veterinarians
into needy areas within the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for ensuring safety
of the nation's meat, poultry and egg supply.
"All federal employees are already eligible for loan repayment," Nichols says. "Now USDA has this pile of money from NVMSA,
so using it to get veterinarians to agree to work in chronically short areas within FSIS seems feasible, but it goes against
the spirit of this bill. The intent was to get vets out into rural, underserved areas."
Tightlipped about that possibility, Sherman reiterates that the act's language goes far beyond rural sectors.
"There's an awful lot of misinformation out there; that's not to say there aren't elements of truth," he says. "I'm a veterinarian,
and I support this program, but until certain people at the secretary office's level give us the go-ahead, I cannot speak
on details, including any level of involvement by FSIS."