Veterans supported by local resources
by Luann Dart
North Dakota veterans have a helping hand, and those who wish to help veterans can lend a hand.
Each county in North Dakota staffs a county veterans service office, which assists veterans in accessing federal and state veterans’ benefits. County veterans service officers handle inquiries and applications regarding veterans’ health care, compensation, pension, long-term care and other benefits for veterans of all ages, as well as burial benefit assistance for the survivors of veterans, explains Dan Thorstad, a veterans service officer in Cass County, an area served by Cass County Electric Cooperative.
Dan Thorstad courtesy photo
Most of the programs are offered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the N.D. Department of Veterans Affairs. County veterans service officers also work with other local, state and federal agencies that provide resources or assistance to veterans.
“Anything VA-related, we can assist them with,” Thorstad says. Veterans from their early 20s to a 93-year-old widow have been assisted by Thorstad.
But, he adds, “I wish more of these veterans knew about the services they could get through their service office. I don’t believe they’re using it to the fullest extent.”
And even if veterans do not wish to pursue benefits for themselves, they should consider their family, Thorstad says, because widows and widowers of veterans are eligible for many state benefits, and sometimes federal benefits.
One program the local offices can connect to veterans are state grants through the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund, administered through the N.D. Department of Veterans Affairs for very low-income veterans or their spouses. The grants assist with dental needs, hearing aids and optical assistance, as well as housing assistance for deposits up to $500. The commissioner also has discretion for special grants, such as purchasing a ticket to get a veteran home for a family funeral, Thorstad says.
“It’s a great program” he says. “The greatest need, and you probably would never guess that, is dental care. Good dental health leads to good health.” Grants don’t cover all the costs, so veterans often must rely on outside services, he says. Aspen Dental, for instance, provided dental care for several veterans through a mobile van last year.
Another donation avenue is by purchasing a yellow ribbon “Support Our Veterans” license plate. Available to the general public through the N.D. Department of Veterans Affairs, the fee for the plates is $25, of which $15 is donated to the North Dakota Veterans Emergency Needs Charitable Fund.
With 11,000 of the state’s 55,000 veterans identified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Cass County’s greatest need is homeless assistance, Thorstad says.
“We get a lot of homeless veterans,” he says. “Winter is always our toughest season, because we’re trying to get these guys and gals housed and get them proper clothing.”
Project HART is a transitional housing program that houses homeless veterans for up to two years.
“It’s a great program and it does great work for these vets,” Thorstad says, explaining it’s another program that relies on donations to succeed. “The fact that they can stay there for up to two years to get back on their feet helps them immensely. You don’t have to worry about where you’re sleeping, so you can start worrying about getting that job or finding a place to live, because we all know it takes a little time to do that, so that’s an amazing program.”
He also encourages veterans to seek mental health services that are readily available. Veterans who would not normally qualify for health care can receive emergency mental health care, with 90 days of followup care.
“As far as some of these combat veterans who don’t really want to go to the VA and talk to anybody, there’s a great program called the Vet Center,” Thorstad says. Vet Centers located in Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot provide readjustment counseling and services to combat veterans, with specially trained counselors.
VA-enrolled veterans can access other services. “The mental health department at the VA is very good with walk-ins. If a veteran walks in and says, ‘I need to talk to somebody,’ he will talk to somebody that day,” Thorstad says.
Another community resource is the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program through N.D. Community Action.
“They do a great job with helping veterans stay in their homes or stay in their apartments when they get a little behind on bills and the rent,” Thorstad says.
Higher Power Automotive Ministries is a nonprofit charity headquartered in Fargo, which accepts donated cars, repairs the cars, then donates the vehicles to those in need, including veterans.
“To have this group available to do that type of stuff is just amazing,” Thorstad says.
Thorstad served in the U.S. Army for 23 years before retiring from the military and starting his work assisting other veterans. He has utilized the Fargo VA Health Care System himself.
“The VA is awesome. I do all my doctoring there and I have nothing but praise for the VA over here. I’ve never had a problem getting in to see a doctor and everybody I’ve dealt with has treated me well. It’s a very good VA hospital,” he says.
That’s another place where the general public can donate or volunteer to lend a hand to America’s heroes.
Co-op substation honors vets
The Veterans Substation, with an American flag flying overhead and a plaque commemorating the brave service of the men and women of our Armed Forces, was dedicated by Minnkota Power Cooperative in 2016 with a special nod to our military.
Dedication of the substation marked the first part of a multiphase $30 million project by Minnkota Power Cooperative to upgrade power transmission equipment in the growing areas of Fargo and West Fargo. Minnkota is the generation and transmission cooperative that supplies electricity to Cass County Electric Cooperative, which serves the area.
The substation is located along Veterans Boulevard in West Fargo.
To learn more:
A listing of available resources and benefits for veterans is available at www.nd.gov/veterans. Or contact a local county veterans service office.
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.