VETERANS AFFAIRS & REHABILITATION

The Cornerstone Program of The American Legion

What is VA&R (Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation)? It is the 1st Pillar of the 4 Pillars of The American Legion. The American Legion has for nearly 90 years acted as the nation’s leading advocate for proper health care, economic opportunity and legal benefits for U.S. military veterans. The Legion was instrumental in the creation of the Veterans Administration in 1930 and an ardent supporter of its elevation to cabinet status when it became the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1989. The relationship between the VA and The American Legion continues to evolve today. As it has for decades, The American Legion continues to aggressively lobby for adequate funding of VA health care, timely access to facilities, fair rulings on benefit claims and economic opportunities for those who have come home changed by their military experience. A nationwide network of American Legion department service officers works diligently to assist veterans as they pursue benefits and care they earned and deserve. At the local, state and national levels, thousands of Legionnaires provide countless hours to help veterans understand their benefits. The American Legion provides professional representation in claims appeals, discharge disputes and transition assistance from active-duty to civilian status throughout the country. Today, as the number of discharged veterans from the global war on terrorism has surpassed 500,000, the Legion’s federally chartered role to support them could not be more profound. The Legion strongly believes that a veteran is a veteran no matter the war era, nature, or location of service. In that light, The American Legion is the only organization that works on behalf of all 24.5 million U.S. veterans, and all who will follow. The American Legion stands on the front line of change in the pillar of service known as “Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation.” It is a complex and vital part of the organization’s mission, particularly now, as a new generation of wartime veterans enters the civilian and VA world. It’s easy to copy and paste what the VA&R does, but what does it say that WE do in North Dakota at the local level. The Department VSO (Veterans Service Officer) Summer Kristianson is very busy processing claims that Veterans from around the state who ask for help with at the VA. Along with the Department VSO there is the NDDVA (North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs) and the CVSO (County Veterans Service Officers) to help Veterans to receive the benefits they are due. As VA&R Chairman, I have believed all along as a Department we need to be active in our state, engaging in Veteran activities which there are a few Posts in our Department that do a good job at achieving. We have statewide fundraising activities that I am working on to propose to the Department VA&R Committee.

The Founders of The American Legion in 1919 recognized that a major concern of the organization would be the plight of the disabled veteran. The Legion promptly organized a National Service Bureau, which worked with department service bureaus and service officers of individual posts to assist veterans with problems of war risk insurance, compensation for disabilities, hospital treatment and vocational training.

The major problem at that time however, was that chaotic conditions existed within the three war-relief agencies–the War Risk Insurance Bureau (WRIB), the Federal Bureau of Vocational Training (FBVT) and the Public Health Service. (PHS)– in handling claims and veterans benefits. Mismanagement and excessive red tape rendered these agencies ineffective.

The American Legion requested that a Presidential committee be appointed to investigate these agencies. As a result, the Dawes Committee, including representatives of The American Legion, was appointed.

The Dawes Committee report, accompanied by White House recommendations, brought about Congressional action in 1921 consolidating most of the activities dealing with WW I veterans into a new independent agency, The United States Veterans Bureau (renamed the Veterans Administration in 1931). Offices of the new bureau were established throughout the nation, opening new avenues of service to veterans.

The Veterans Bureau continued under careful study by The American Legion during the next two years, and many reforms were suggested by Legion leadership and put into effect, eliminating abuses that deprived veterans of hospital treatment and other rights authorized by Congress. It was in the same period that The American Legion improved its own procedures of handling veterans matters by organizing the National Rehabilitation Committee to promote better administration of this important and highly complex activity.

When the Veterans Bureau Office at Fargo, which was opened in late 1921, became a Regional Office in 1924, C. T. Hoverson was named its regional manager. After leaving WW I service, Hoverson began the practice of law at Valley City. Because of his capable handling of war risk insurance cases for veteran clients, he was asked to join the WRIB as a field representative. He accepted the position and moved to Fargo in July 1920. Hoverson provided effective leadership at the Fargo Regional Office in the implementation of veterans benefit programs and responding to their claims and needs during his tenure as manager.

The American Legion’s cause in behalf of disabled veterans benefits faced one of its greatest challenges during the Depression of the early l 930’s. In 1933, the new national administration passed what has since been known as the infamous Economy Act, wiping out a wide range of programs and benefits which had been won for disabled veterans by patient effort since the end of WW I.

The American Legion’s unceasing fight was rewarded March 28, 1934, when Congress enacted PL 141, restoring the major portion of the benefits taken from disabled World War veterans by the Economy Act. A final effort included Congress overriding a presidential veto of this bill.

The greatest single legislative achievement of the Legion was the enactment of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights. Not only is the Legion universally recognized as the originator of this omnibus bill but also as the force which overcame political opposition by massing public opinion in favor of the measure. With approximately 15 million men and women in the armed forces of the US in WW II, The American Legion resolved that its post-WW I experiences would not be repeated. The painful memories of disabled men waiting for more than five years for legislation, which would permit prompt and fair adjudication of their rights to hospital care and compensation, inspired American Legion leaders to work for the enactment of this omnibus law. It has been described as the most comprehensive piece of legislation dealing with veterans affairs ever enacted.

The GI Bill of Rights embodies all that The American Legion had learned during a quarter century, and its preparation involved many months of careful research, the analysis of convention mandates, exchange of ideas with experts in the military, naval, educational, financial, employment and unemployment compensation fields.

In the early 1950’s, a Hoover Commission recommendation called for drastic changes in the present VA structure which would have meant, for all practical purposes, the destruction of the VA, with many of its responsibilities assigned to various other government agencies. Realizing the consequences of such legislation, The American Legion organized such vigorous opposition that this proposal was never approved by Congress.

In 1952, the Legion helped to win passage of the Korean War GI Bill and, in 1966, helped achieve passage of the Vietnam Era GI Bill. The Legion successfully fought against attempts to close VA facilities. During the 1960s, 15 VA regional offices and domiciliary were saved by the Legion. And thanks to Legion efforts, VA kept at least one regional office in every state. Veterans stood to lose significant leverage within the Senate in the ’70’s when Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson (IL) submitted a proposal to relegate the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to subcommittee status under the Human Resources Committee, but the Legion wouldn’t allow it and successfully persuaded the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to retain the Senate Committee in its present form on Veterans Affairs and oppose any recommendations that would have the effect of reducing the Senate recognition and identification of veterans problems.

Legion lobbying during the ’80s was instrumental in gaining a cabinet seat for veterans, as the Veterans Administration became the Department of Veterans Affairs. When VA proposed to close Vet Centers, the Legion successfully lobbied to save the treatment facilities for Vietnam veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Agent Orange victims also gained a powerful ally when the Legion rallied to their cause. Since the US government would not address the Agent Orange health problems afflicting Vietnam veterans, the Legion conducted and completed studies with Columbia University that showed a demonstrable link between the defoliant and diseases. In the courtroom and the laboratory, the Legion attacked the government’s mishandling of the issue and led the fight for Agent Orange benefits.

The case against the toxic Vietnam War defoliant continues into the ’90s and will not be dropped by the Legion until all victims arc compensated. Similarly, the Legion emphasizes the need for a contemporary GI Bill and treatment for the mysterious illnesses many Desert Storm veterans brought home.

There were many more Legion initiatives which were approved by Congress to solve problem areas affecting veterans. Legionnaires at all levels of the organization worked together over the years to record these legislative achievements.

The Department Service Officer

Assistant Department Service Officer

MacLaughlin Has Longest Service Officer Tenure

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Jim Deremo 2000-2013; interim DSO 2013-2017
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Bryan Watters
2013-2015
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Lynn Titus
2015-2016
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Summer Kristianson
2017-present (2019)

The Legacy of Agent Orange

Agent Orange spray mission in Vietnam

The American Legion, along with other major veteran organizations have fought for years to bring this issue to the forefront and garner the benefits Vietnam Veterans were entitled to as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange. The following is a brief history of this long, sad, struggle that continues today.

Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover and crops for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The U.S. program, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 20 million gallons of various herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971. Agent Orange, which contained the deadly chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used herbicide. It was later proven to cause serious health issues—including cancer, birth defects, rashes and severe psychological and neurological problems—among the Vietnamese people as well as among returning U.S. servicemen and their families.

Operation Ranch Hand

During the Vietnam War , the U.S military engaged in an aggressive program of chemical warfare codenamed Ranch Hand .

From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed a range of herbicides across more than 4.5 million acres of Vietnam to destroy the forest cover and food crops used by enemy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.

U.S. aircraft were deployed to douse roads, rivers, canals, rice paddies and farmland with powerful mixtures of herbicides. During this process, crops and water sources used by the non-combatant native population of South Vietnam were also hit.

In all, American forces used more than 20 million gallons of herbicides in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the years of Operation Ranch Hand. Herbicides were also sprayed from trucks and hand-sprayers around U.S. military bases.

Some military personnel during the Vietnam War era joked that “Only you can prevent a forest,” a twist on the U.S. Forest Service’s popular fire-fighting campaign featuring Smokey the Bear.

What Is Agent Orange?

The various herbicides used during Operation Ranch Hand were referred to by the colored marks on the 55-gallon drums in which the chemicals were shipped and stored.

In addition to Agent Orange, the U.S. military used herbicides named Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent White and Agent Blue. Each of these—manufactured by Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies—had different chemical chemical additives in varying strengths.

Agent Orange was the most widely used herbicide in Vietnam, and the most potent. It was available in slightly different mixtures, sometimes referred to as Agent Orange I, Agent Orange II, Agent Orange III and “Super Orange.”

More than 13 million gallons of Agent Orange was used in Vietnam, or almost two-thirds of the total amount of herbicides used during the entire Vietnam War.

Dioxin in Agent Orange

In addition to Agent Orange’s active ingredients, which caused plants to “defoliate” or lose their leaves, Agent Orange contained significant amounts of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, often called TCDD, a type of dioxin.

Dioxin was not intentionally added to Agent Orange; rather, dioxin is a byproduct that’s produced during the manufacturing of herbicides. It was found in varying concentrations in all the different herbicides used in Vietnam.

Dioxins are also created from trash incineration; burning gas, oil and coal; cigarette smoking and in different manufacturing processes such as bleaching. The TCDD found in Agent Orange is the most dangerous of all dioxins.

Effects of Agent Orange

Because Agent Orange (and other Vietnam-era herbicides) contained dioxin in the form of TCDD, it had immediate and long-term effects.

Dioxin is a highly persistent chemical compound that lasts for many years in the environment, particularly in soil, lake and river sediments and in the food chain. Dioxin accumulates in fatty tissue in the bodies of fish, birds and other animals. Most human exposure is through foods such as meats, poultry, dairy products, eggs, shellfish and fish.

Studies done on laboratory animals have proven that dioxin is highly toxic even in minute doses. It is universally known to be a carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent).

Short-term exposure to dioxin can cause darkening of the skin, liver problems and a severe acne-like skin disease called chloracne. Additionally, dioxin is linked to type 2 diabetes, immune system dysfunction, nerve disorders, muscular dysfunction, hormone disruption and heart disease.

Developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to dioxin, which is also linked to miscarriages, spina bifida and other problems with fetal brain and nervous system development.

Veteran Health Issues and Legal Battle

Questions regarding Agent Orange arose in the United States after an increasing number of returning Vietnam veterans and their families began to report a range of afflictions, including rashes and other skin irritations, miscarriages, psychological symptoms, type 2 diabetes, birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia.

In 1988, Dr. James Clary, an Air Force researcher associated with Operation Ranch Hand, wrote to Senator Tom Daschle, “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

In 1979, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 2.4 million veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service in Vietnam. Five years later, in an out-of-court-settlement, seven large chemical companies that manufactured the herbicide agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to the veterans or their next of kin.

Did you know? The controversy over Agent Orange and its effects has persisted for more than four decades. As late as 2019, debate continued over whether so-called “Blue Water Navy” veterans (those who served aboard deep-sea vessels during the Vietnam War) should receive the same Agent Orange-related benefits as other veterans who served on the ground or on inland waterways.

Various challenges to the settlement followed, including lawsuits filed by some 300 veterans, before the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the settlement in 1988. By that time, the settlement had risen to some $240 million including interest.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Agent Orange Act, which mandated that some diseases associated with Agent Orange and other herbicides (including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcomas and chloracne) be treated as the result of wartime service. This helped codify the VA’s response to veterans with conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange.

Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam

In addition to the massive environmental devastation of the U.S. defoliation program in Vietnam, that nation has reported that some 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange.

In addition, Vietnam claims half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange.

In 2004, a group of Vietnamese citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against more than 30 chemical companies, including the same ones that settled with U.S. veterans in 1984. The suit, which sought billions of dollars worth of damages, claimed that Agent Orange and its poisonous effects left a legacy of health problems and that its use constituted a violation of international law.

In March 2005, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, dismissed the suit; another U.S. court rejected a final appeal in 2008, causing outrage among Vietnamese victims of Operation Ranch Hand and U.S. veterans alike.

Fred A. Wilcox, author of Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, told the Vietnamese news source VN Express International, “The U.S. government refuses to compensate Vietnamese victims of chemical warfare because to do so would mean admitting that the U.S. committed war crimes in Vietnam. This would open the door to lawsuits that would cost the government billions of dollars.”

North Dakota Awarded the William F. Lenker VA&R Trophy

Commander Seb Roll and Department VA&R Chairman Jim Deremo receiving the Lenker Award

The William F. Lenker National Service Trophy is to be awarded annually to that department of The American Legion excelling in welfare and rehabilitation work for war veterans and their dependents.

The North Dakota American Legion was awarded the William F. Lenker Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation award at the 2003 National Convention in St. Louis for its outstanding work on behalf of the veterans and their families in North Dakota.

William (Bill) Lenker was the longstanding national chairman of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission. He was a true advocate for the nations veterans and worked tirelessly on behalf of all of them. When he passed away from cancer during his tenure as chairman, the national organization established this award in his honor to be given to the Department in The American Legion that best exemplifies Mr. Lenkers devotion to this nations veterans.

Due in no small part to Commander Seb Roll and his officers and all the 23,000 Legionnaires in North Dakota a real effort was made to make sure the veterans and their families in North Dakota know that The American Legion was here to help them when they needed it whether it be with their VA benefits, counseling, or finding suitable living quarters, The American Legion was there for them. It was because of this effort the past year that the North Dakota American Legion was honored to receive this most prestigious award.

“By Our Devotion to Mutual Helpfulness” The American Legion shall “care for them who have borne the battle and for their widow and orphan”

VA&R Committee Launches “Courage Carries On Campaign” to address Veteran Suicide and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In an effort to reach out and help veterans who may be suffering, the North Dakota American Legion in 2009 launched a campaign called Courage Carries On. 

The campaign was kicked off during the organization’s Winter Conference held in Jamestown. The effort hinged on a service member’s courage to serve and to get help: “You had the courage to serve your country. Now have the courage to help yourself.”

The three-phase educational campaign reached out to all who have worn the uniform, targeting those who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, whether from war, sexual trauma or other negative experiences. It also aimed to prevent suicide by offering avenues for help.

To create the campaign The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Committee partnered with Results-Unlimited, a Minot-based marketing and advertising agency.


Courage Carries On didn’t dwell on the often-used PTSD label, but focused on finding relief from its troubling symptoms. The campaign’s messages weren’t delivered by actors, but by real veterans who have battled PTSD and/or suicidal thoughts and found help. “As the state’s largest war-time veterans’ organization, The American Legion understands veterans’ experiences. We want to overcome the stigma that correlates weakness with asking for help,” said Jim Deremo, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Committee chairman “Making that call can be one of the hardest things a veteran ever does. It takes courage, but it’s worth it. The North Dakota American Legion wants all veterans to know this.”


Others on the committee included Dan Stenvold, one of the veterans featured in the campaign; Jerry Samuelson, incoming Department Commander; Tom Sumers, veterans coordinator with the Department of Veterans Affairs and a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard; Cathy Keogh, a nurse and retired soldier; Dean Johnson, a county veteran service officer; and Amy Wieser Willson, deputy public information officer for the North Dakota National Guard.


The three-phase campaign was meant to enhance and supplement work being done by Veterans Affairs and other veterans’ agencies in the state.


In the first phase of the Courage Carries On campaign, the American Legion distributed posters and brochures created by Results Unlimited to all North Dakota Legion posts. The posters and brochures highlighted PTSD symptoms and detailed who to contact for professional assistance or more information. Local posts distributed the posters and brochures throughout their communities to promote the importance of the message.


The Legion also created a Facebook page and website specifically related to the Courage Carries On theme of the program. The Facebook page and website gave North Dakota veterans the opportunity to connect with one another, share experiences and make friendships while getting updates on information relevant to veterans and PTSD. Those interested were also are able to sign up for relevant updates through Twitter and receive those messages by computer or mobile phone.


The second phase included public service announcements and billboards throughout the state. The third phase consisted of paid radio and television commercials. The VA&R Committee worked on involving the families of veterans who suffer along with them and were in need of counseling to deal with it.


“The American Legion has always been in the forefront of taking care of our veterans,” Deremo said. “Courage Carries On was just one more example of how we continue to achieve our mission.”

We would like to thank the veterans featured in our campaign who had the courage to step forward to help their fellow veterans.  Without them, this campaign would not have happened.

Dan Olson (with the bike) and a member of the ND National Guard
Courage Carries On partnered with Operation Military Kids
The bike ride ended on Memorial Day in Fargo
The campaign concluded at the bridge between Fargo and Moorhead

Kathy & Amy manning the Courage Carries On display
Police Escort in Grand Forks    

2011 COURAGE CARRIES ON BICYCYCLE RIDE PEDALING FOR PTSD

Easy Riding

Along with Dan Olson who bicycled across the state solo last year we’re happy to have with us this year, Nick Folkedahl from West Fargo.  Dan and Nick are both members of the North Dakota National Guard and serve with the Wahpeton unit.  They are donating their time to this most worthy cause and we truly thank them for it.

We started the bike ride on June 27, 2011 following our Department Convention with a stop at Home of Economy in Williston.  Our next stop was at the Home of Economy in Minot.  We then biked to Devils Lake and stopped at the Home of Economy there.  We then biked to Grand Forks and finished the first leg of the ride in Grand Forks.  Our Legionnaires in Grand Forks turned out in force to greet us at the Home of Economy there.  Post Commander Bob Greene arranged for a police escort for us which was quite cool! With the wind in North Dakota blowing from east to west it was hard pedaling but both Dan and Nick showed their grit and determination and pedaled the route.

We were in Park River for their annual July 4th celebration and participated in the festivities there including the parade.  On Tuesday, July 5th we started out again beginning at the Fargo American Legion at 10:00 a.m. for a “breakfast with the bikers.” We stopped at the Home of Economy in Jamestown and ended the ride at the GWOT Memorial in Bismarck.  Going west was much easier because Dan and Nick didn’t have to fight the wind the whole way.

All in all it was a very successful bike ride.  Thank you again to Dan Olson and Nick Folkedahl for making it a success.

VA&R Committee Continues to Raise Awareness

We have conducted 3 step challenges to raise money. These step challenges are to promote health and wellness along with supporting veterans in our state. 

At winter conference 2018, we had Brad Aune speak regarding PTSD. We were able to live stream this presentation on Facebook so that people that were not able to attend could listen to it. 

At winter conference 2019, Calie Lindseth with ND-DVA spoke on Military Sexual Trauma, to include what it is and what services it includes. 

DEPARTMENT EXCEEDS NEF GOAL

The Department of North Dakota raised $22,402 for the National Emergency Fund (NEF).  National Commander Tom Bock challenged each Department to raise at least $1.00 per member for the NEF.  The Department of North Dakota has met and even exceeded this goal.  The Department membership goal this year is 20,750.  CONGRATUATIONS!  To all the Post’s that have so generously contributed, thank you so much.  To the individual members that have contributed, thank you.  And to those of you non-members who have contributed, thank you.  Any time we set a goal, we can’t do it without all of our members stepping up to the plate.  You all did that in a great way.  Know that every cent of your contributions will go to directly help our fellow Legionnaires. 

While hurricanes Katrina and Rita wreaked havoc in the southern states several months ago there continues to be many displaced Legionnaires from those states.  They are still hurting and still need help.  It’s great to know that North Dakota Legionnaires and others have risen to the occasion to help them.  You are all to be congratulated!

Because we have exceeded our goal Commander Satrom is asking that we discontinue fund raising for this year.  However, if you feel compelled to still donate, please feel free to do so.  There are many other worthwhile projects that can use your generous financial donations such as Boys State, Oratorical Contest, The Commanders Project, etc.  Please feel free to donate to any one of these most worthwhile Programs.

Again, on behalf of Department Commander Satrom, thank you so much for caring so deeply about your fellow Legionnaires.

Congress establishes Veterans Appeals Court

Through the efforts of the Department and National American Legion, along with all other major veterans organizations a federal court was established, allowing veterans and survivors to appeal VA denial of their claims for VA benefits.

On November 18, 1988, President Reagan signed into law the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act (Pub. L. No. 100-687), which established as a court of record the United States Court of Veterans Appeals. Pursuant to the Veterans’ Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 (Pub. L. No. 105-368) and effective March 1, 1999, the Court’s name was changed to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. As a court of record, the court is part of the United States judiciary and not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The laws creating and establishing the Court are codified in chapter 72 of title 38, United States Code.

The Court is authorized seven permanent, active Judges, and two additional Judges as part of a temporary expansion provision. Judges generally are appointed for 15-year terms, and each Judge has the option upon retirement to agree to be available for further service as a recall-eligible Senior Judge. During any period of recall service, a Senior Judge has all of the judicial authority and powers of a Judge in active service.

The Court has exclusive jurisdiction over decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board or BVA). The Court reviews Board decisions appealed by claimants who believe the Board erred in its decision. The Court’s review of Board decisions is based on the record before the agency and arguments of the parties, which are presented in a written brief, with oral argument generally held only in cases presenting new legal issues.

The Court’s principal office is in Washington, D.C., but the Court is authorized to sit anywhere in the United States and does so a limited number of times each year.

Former Job Service N.D. Staffer Ascends to Legion’s National Legislative Director

Steve A. Robertson joined the Job Service North Dakota staff at Minot as an employment counselor in October 1985, after his discharge from the US Air Force at Minot AFB. Soon he became a disabled veterans outreach program (DVOP) specialist and was responsible for 10 counties in northwestern North Dakota.

A member of the Legion’s William G. Carroll Post 26 while at Minot, Robertson accepted the assistant director’s position for The American Legion’s national legislative commission at Washington, DC, in late 1987. In January 1991, his National Guard unit was activated and deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and remained there through June 1991.

While in the Persian Gulf, Stevenson was promoted to deputy director of the national legislative commission. Upon his return to Washington, he was among the first veterans of the Gulf War to report unusual health problems. In 1992, he was instrumental in the development of legislation for medical care, compensation and medical research for Persian Gulf War veterans with undiagnosed illnesses.

In 1993, Robertson was elevated to director of the national legislative commission.

State Legion Prominent on Veterans Rehabilitation and Legislative Fronts

The American Legion was organized in North Dakotas in 1919, and the need for an office of state Veterans Service Commissioner was evident in 1920.

In the small office set up by the Legion, letters poured in from ex-service personnel, seeking help in the adjustment of their claims and from men who had returned from France broken in health, their bodies maimed and, in many cases, their minds distorted by the suffering they had endured. At that time the federal government had not perfected its machine–initially the Veterans Bureau and later consolidated into the Veterans Administration—with which to care for the disabled.

Our state did not have a Veterans Service Commissioner’s office then. There was no office functioning in this state outside of The American Legion, and upon our shoulders fell the burden to help those veterans in great need.

In 1921, the North Dakota American Legion faced a deficit of $5,000 because we carried on the work of rehabilitating these men. In the great majority of these cases, those assisted were not members of our organization. When The American Legion accepted this burden in 1919, we spent our money to discharge our obligation to our wounded comrades. Men who were ill and dying could not wait for cumbersome governmental machinery to care for them. Emergency aid was needed and The American Legion supplied it. There was no other veterans organization in the state that could do this work.

By late 1921, the federal government started to perfect its organization to care for these men and established a Veterans Bureau office in Fargo. The problem then became the need to help veterans obtain from the federal government the benefits to which they were entitled, to explain to them the federal regulations under which the benefits were payable and to assist them in the application process.

As the years went on, the veterans rehabilitation workload grew to such proportions that the Legion was unable to continue that service alone. The policy was to help all veterans, giving service freely without regard to affiliation.

In 1927, The American Legion requested the legislature to direct the creation of the office of Veterans Service Commissioner in order to further assist the disabled veterans in this state. There was a great deal of misunderstanding, and it was a long uphill pull before the office was finally established at that session. T. O. Kraabel was appointed the first commissioner and ably served in that position for a decade. In 1929, The American Legion and The American Legion Auxiliary established the Veterans Service Fund, administered by the Veterans Service Commissioner to assist veterans in emergency cases. After the commissioner’s office had been in operation for two years, it became an absolute necessity that such a

fund be created to relieve acute situations of financial distress and want pending the operation of other relief agencies. Types of assistance included funds to purchase medicine, food and clothing, pay rent and railway fares, plus many others. The only criteria was that each beneficiary was an honorably discharged war vet.

Prior to his departure for Washington, DC, in the summer of 1937 when he accepted a position on the staff of the Legion’s National Rehabilitation Commission, Kraabel reported that the Legion and Auxiliary had provided nearly $4,500 in the previous eight years for direct relief and welfare. This amount accomplished the work of $9,000 in nearly 1,500 cases, as some of the funds were loaned on a temporary basis to help veterans until other funds became available to make repayment.

In 1933, the appropriation of the commissioner’s office was cut to such an extent that the Legion had to make up the deficit needed to continue. The commissioner was co-located for some years with the Legion’s state headquarters.

The Legion developed a statewide post service officer network among local posts to provide a contact person between the commissioner and the veteran in the development of claims.

At Washington, DC, The American Legion maintains its National Rehabilitation Commission with a corps of trained personnel, including legal and medical professionals, who fight the battles of the individual veteran whose claim has been appealed to the Veterans Administration central office. The Veterans Service Commissioner used this complimentary American Legion service with gratifying results.

In the spring of 1944, looking forward to many thousands of veterans returning home from WW II, department headquarters staff was expanded with the hiring of a full-time department service officer.

Preparing for a heavy upswing in rehabilitation workload, the Legion held annual schools for post service officers so they, in turn, could use the knowledge gained to help veterans and dependents on their local communities with all their claims resulting from war service. The claims would be forwarded to the Legion’s professional department service officer at state headquarters for review and submission to the Veterans Administration. The expertise of the Legion’s National Rehabilitation Commission staff was available to assist on certain cases that were referred there for appellate actions.

This Legion rehabilitation service network has continued in place through the  Korean and Vietnam wars and other clashes around the globe that have occurred to the writing of this history for the organization’s 75th year.

Among other highlights on the legislative front, The American Legion was active in securing funds in the 1919 and 1921 Legislatures for payment of a state bonus to WW I veterans. Various amendments were passes at the next several sessions until it was closed. The drafting and printing of a roster of North Dakota’s WW I veterans was a great accomplishment.

The 1947 legislative assembly took the first step towards the enactment of adjusted compensation for North Dakota’s veterans of WW II. On the June 1948 ballot, the electorate approved the constitutional amendment authorizing funding for the bonus, and the 1949 session established the eligibility criteria and administrative procedures for the payment.

In 1949, Legion Department Adjutant Jack Williams reported that a total of some 220 laws affecting veterans had been written into the records since the 1919 session. They included the establishment of the office of Veterans Service Commissioner, setting up the State Highway Patrol, authority for county commissioners to build memorials, budgets for agencies serving veterans and many other important pieces of legislation.

The next segment will present a brief review of the eight (1951-65) legislative assemblies, with the Legion supporting the biennial budgets for veterans agencies at each of them and also hacking appropriation needs for the North Dakota National Guard.

When the 1951 legislative assembly convened, our nation was engaged in the Korean War. That session passed a hill exempting North Dakotans on active duty from paying late income tax on service pay and providing job protection, similar to WW II laws, on a seniority basis.

Because the Korean War was still in progress, no action was taken in the ’53 session for a bonus for state vets on active duty during that conflict. The necessary facts regarding the number involved the length of service and the projected cost could not be accurately estimated.

By the time of the ’55 legislative assembly met, the war was over. That session adopted a Concurrent House Resolution placing a constitutional amendment on the statewide election ballot, which was approved in the June 1956 primary, authorizing the issuance of bonds for payment or adjusted compensation to Korean veterans.

The Legion lacked funding needs to operate North Dakota’s Civil Defense program at the ’55 session as well as appropriations to the Board of North Dakota Armories, providing moneys to match federal funds for construction of armories for the North Dakota National Guard in the state.

When the 1957 legislative assembly met, it approved the necessary legislation to commence payment of a bonus to Korean veterans at the rate of $17 .50 per month for foreign service and $12.50 per month for stateside service, similar to rates paid to WW II veterans. The hill authorizing the Adjutant General to write a history of North Dakota’s WW II and Korean Conflict veterans was passed.

Many other bills were handled by the Legion’s legislative committee at these and the 1959-’61-’63-’65 sessions. See the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council story in this history book, which reports on veterans legislation for the 1967-1993 sessions.

Williams Paces Post-War Planning

Jack Williams, long-time adjutant of The American Legion in North Dakota, played a large role in veterans rehabilitation and postwar planning. He was prominent in the establishment of the office of state Veterans Service Commissioner in 1927 and upgrading that office to the Department of Veterans Affairs during the 1945 legislative session.

In recognition of his expertise in veterans affairs and rehabilitation, Williams was appointed as a member of the executive committee of The American Legion’s National World War II Liaison Committee in 1942, then followed as 1943-45 senior vice-chairman of that committee designated to make Legion plans for providing rehabilitation and other services to WW II veterans as they returned home.

In 1943, Gov. John Moses appointed Williams to serve on the postwar planning board. This board, headed by E. F. Riley of Wahpeton, president of the North Dakota State School of Science, was authorized to formulate and revise plans for a long-range program of public service, including the improvement and extension of existing services in education, health, social security, welfare and other fields related to the well-being or statewide citizens.

Relating to veterans affairs, the guidelines provided” … the board shall have the power and it shall he its duty to formulate, develop and organize a comprehensive postwar rehabilitation program for the benefit of returning World War II veterans … “

The 1943 Legislative Assembly approved HB 100 creating a Post-War Rehabilitation Fund and appropriated $1,000,000 from surplus moneys in the state treasury. The 1945 session appropriated another $1,000,000 to this fund, and the ‘47 session transferred an additional $3,000,000 from the state treasury, making the total fund now $5,000,000. Under the law, the interest income to this fund accumulated to the Veterans Aid Commission.

The interest from this Post-War Rehabilitation Fund was to be used to help returning veterans who found themselves in physical or financial difficulty and needing assistance. Before interest became available in the $5 million fund, the Legislature made an appropriation to the Veterans Aid Commission when it established that agency during the 1943 session and approved additional appropriations in 1945 and 1947 for use in making loans to veterans.

The “47 session made it a permanent revolving fund. According to Williams, the program helped many veterans to finish their education, save their insurance policies and make a down payment on a home. The revolving fund has accommodated several millions of dollars in loans to veterans to cope with various types of temporary financial difficulty.

The Rehabilitation Fund was dissolved by the Legislature in the late 50s and was used to pay off the last five million dollars in bonds for veteran bonus payments made from the World War II Adjusted Compensation Fund.

Williams served as secretary of the Legion’s department legislative committee from 1919 until his commendable service to the veterans of North Dakota ended with a disabling stroke in October 1966. He died in June 1967.

North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council

Three decades ago, the idea of a veterans coordinating council was born during conversation between Elmo R. Olson of Finley and W. M. (Bill) Williamson of Bismarck while driving to a meeting. Olson was then the department commander of The American Legion and Williamson was the state director for veterans employment.

This concept was explored at the joint meeting of commanders and adjutants of the Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans of World War I, USA, and other veterans affairs officials held at Fargo Sept. 29, 1964. Following expressions of merit for this type of a coordinated group, a temporary organization was approved, with Williamson designated to act as the coordinator and to prepare a suggested charter and by-laws for the next meeting.

Representatives of these organizations met Dec. 3, 1964, at Bismarck. After reporting on the favorable reaction received from members within these organizations on the concept of forming a council, the proposed by-laws were presented, which had been prepared by Bismarck attorney Roger McKinnon. Discussion on these by-laws proceeded item by item, with some changes made. The proposed by-laws and articles of incorporation as amended; were adopted for the organization named the North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council.

Coordinator Williamson was delegated to prepare an original copy of the amended bylaws, obtain signatures from all the members and then send copies to these organizations to seek approval for the formation of the council at their ’65 department conventions.

The following state officers co-signed the by-laws: Elmo R. Olson, commander, and Jack Williams, adjutant, for the Legion; Fred E. Yager, commander, and Fred G. Jordan, adjutant, for the VFW; Marvin E. Konrad, commander, and Andy Nomland, adjutant, for the DAV, and Neal H. Tracy, commander, and J. H. Maskie, adjutant, for the Veterans of WW I.

The objective of the group to develop a statewide, intelligent, aggressive and serviceable council for the purpose of promoting all activities found to be for the good of all veterans and dependents, was affirmed by the founders.

Olson was elected president of the newly-formed North Dakota Veterans Coordinating Council at its Sept. 10, 1965, meeting at Fargo. Other officers elected were Konrad, vice-president, Bismarck; Alex Wilkinson, secretary, Buchanan, and Don Richardson, treasurer, Fargo. Williamson was named executive director, the position he ably held for two decades, retiring in 1985.

Composed of three representatives, the department’s commander and adjutant and one other designated member, of its member organizations, the work of the council was handled by its founding four nationally-chartered organizations for nearly two decades.

In 1983, when the average age of WW I veterans was around 90, the Veterans of WW I, USA, withdrew their active membership on the council. Their departure was offset that year when the American Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam (AmVets) was admitted to the council. In early 1985, the Vietnam Veterans of America joined the council, increasing its voting member organizations to five.

Honorary members to the council include other veterans organizations and veterans affairs officials, who serve as counsel and resource.

The council is fulfilling its pledge to serve veterans and their dependents. Every meeting, now totaling over 100 since its inception, has a heavy agenda dealing with veterans activities.

The council devotes much time and effort in screening and preparing legislation for consideration by the biennial legislative assembly. Legislative objectives must be unanimously endorsed by council members before being advance to the legislature. The following paragraphs report the major council-supported veterans legislation passed by the legislature and approved by the governor since the 1967 session. Appropriation bills at each session for the operation of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the North Dakota Veterans Home at Lisbon.

The 1967 session enacted the Educational Assistance program for North Dakota Vietnam veterans, providing a reduction in mandatory admission fees of $60 per semester or $40 per quarter at state-supported institutions of higher education, as well as at certain other approved colleges in the state.

Also enacted was legislation continuing the Veterans Aid Commission and emergency interest-free loans up to $500, repayable in two years. Korean and Vietnam veterans were also made eligible.

Expansion of the N.D. Educational Assistance program for Vietnam veterans to include vocational education and training and the initial step for future payment of adjusted compensation (bonus) to Vietnam vets, were the key measures approved by the ’69 Legislature directly affecting veterans.

The 1971 legislative session proved relatively kind to veterans, with successes outweighing the lost measures. Legislators in North Dakota have a kindred spirit for veterans, it was noted by the legislative chairman that year. Being of major concern to Vietnam veterans was the passage of the Vietnam bonus bill, which provided $12. 50 per month for domestic service and $17 .50 per month for foreign service. A minimum death benefit of $600 was set for the next of kin of veterans who died in active service. No maximum was stipulated in the legislation.

Upon passage of the bonus legislation, the legislature chose to phase out the Educational Assistance program for Vietnam vets.

Veterans Day was reverted to Nov. 11, veterans preference in employment was mandated, free college tuition for dependent children of North Dakota prisoners of war and those missing in action after Aug. 5, 1964, and $4 million additional funding for Vietnam veterans bonus payments were all enacted in the 1973 legislative session.

The 1975 session provided a state income tax exemption for the first $5,000 in military retirement pay at age 60; provided exemption from taxation on real property up to a net assessed valuation of $10,000 for paraplegic disabled veterans and up to a net assessed valuation of $4,000 on real property for other qualifying disabled veterans, and provided for a holiday on Monday when Nov. 11 falls on Sunday.

All proposals of the Coordinating Council were passed into law in the 1977 session: A new addition to the state home for veterans at Lisbon, extended deadline date for filing Vietnam bonus applications, authorized county commissioners to increase mill levy to three-fourths mill to fund county veteran’s service officer, and raised tax abatement from $10,000 to $20,000 of net assessed evaluation for special adapted housing for veterans. The $4,000 provision for other qualifying disabled veterans was raised to $8,000.

The 1979 session found the Coordinating Council endorsing a bill, not of its origin, for acquisition, operation and maintenance of a new state park. In approving the use of surplus monies in the Vietnam bonus fund for the purchase, the council also suggested that the park should he dedicated to the state’s veterans and asked that thought should be given to the possibility of establishing a veterans cemetery on part of the land. Both political parties and the governor supported the purchase of the land known as the Cross Ranch, located along the Missouri River, west of Washburn. Although approved by the legislature, opponents referred the issue to the electorate. The state park proposal was defeated by 11,000 votes on the Sept. 2, 1980. primary ballot.

Highlights of the 1981 session were: $400,000 was appropriated from the Vietnam Veterans Adjusted Compensation Fund to increase the Veterans Aid Loan Fund and authorized the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs to boost the then $500 maximum loan to $2,000 (repayable in two years) with interest up to 10%; established a Veterans Postwar Trust Fund of approximately $3.4  million, this being the residue or the surplus in the Vietnam Veterans Adjusted Compensation Fund, and authorized former prisoners or war to apply for a special, distinctive lifetime license plate for $1 when registering one vehicle.

Spouses or female veterans were granted admission to the state home for veterans in the 1983 session. Previously, only spouses of male veterans were eligible. SB 2414 provided for retiring of the POW license plate upon the death or a former POW.

Although 1985 session legislators voted to revert Memorial Day to its historic May 30 observation date, the bill was vetoed by Gov. George A. Sinner. An attempt was made to locate the commissioner of veterans affairs in Bismarck, but it failed. Gaming legislation was a hot topic during the session.

The 1987 session proved somewhat disastrous for veterans when the legislators proposed taking money out of the principal of the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund for budgets for the Veterans Home and the Department of Veterans Affairs for the 1987-89 biennium. Following the hearing in the House Appropriations Committee, the legislators, without conferring with any of the veterans organizations, changed the bill to eliminate the current law protecting the Postwar Trust Fund and transferring most of the money in that fund to the general fund, leaving only $123,000 of the $4.2 million trust fund.

Armed with far in excess the required 13,055 petition signatures, the Veterans Coordinating Council members were able to get an initiated measure on the Nov. 8, 1988, General election ballot to restore the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund. Measure #4 passed with a 59.7% favorable vote, requiring the legislature to put $740.000 per year into the dedicated trust fund over five years to restore it to the $4 million level. Only the earnings are to be used for veterans programs.

The 1989 legislature approved authority for obtaining a loan to match federal dollars to add a nursing care unit at the Veterans Home. SB 2381 provided authority to establish a State Veterans Cemetery adjacent to Ft. Lincoln, south of Mandan.

In 1991, a memorializing resolution asking Congress to amend the federal constitution, providing protection for the US Flag from physical desecration, was passed and forwarded to Washington for attention of the US Congress. SB 2596 was adopted providing a bonus payment to National Guard personnel and Reservists who were called up for active duty during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. A Senate concurrent resolution was approved, authorizing a proposed amendment to the North Dakota constitution be placed on the primary ballot that would, if passed by the electorate, permit payment of a bonus to the military regulars from North Dakota who served on active duty during the Persian Gulf War, Grenada, Lebanon or Panama armed conflicts. By a wide 7-1 margin, voters in 1992 okayed the above described bonus proposal.

The 1993 legislature approved the procedures for making bonus payments to North Dakota residents for active military duty that they performed in the theatre of operations during the Persian Gulf War only, excluding service in the Granada, Lebanon and Panama hostilities from eligibility.

A major issue approved in the ’93 session beneficial to veterans provided a tuition waiver at institutions of higher education for survivors of peace officers, fire fighters, veterans killed in action and veterans totally disabled due to service-connected causes. Several bills relating to veterans were killed during this session, including a proposal to give the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs authority to obtain a loan for matching federal money to build a 60-bed skilled nursing home in western North Dakota.

The council’s legislative committee consists of representatives appointed thereto by member organizations. Those from the Legion who have served on this committee during one or more legislative sessions include Roger McKinnon, Earnest N. Schmit, Leonard Dalsted, Joe Novak, Leo Swenson, C. Emerson Murry, Joseph T. Smith, all from Bismarck, Milton W. Kane of Valley City and Earl H. Redlin of Ellendale.

North Dakota Veterans Home Opened in 1893

The North Dakota Veterans Home at Lisbon is a state institution established in 1891 and has been in operation since 1893. The general supervision and government of the home is vested in the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs. Veterans homes were established by an act of Congress in 1887. Certain lands were set aside in a number of states and territories for the establishment and maintenance of homes for veteran Union soldiers.

At the end of the First Legislative Assembly of the state of North Dakota, Senate Bill 60, entitled an act appropriating money for the erection of a soldiers home and its expenses, was passed by that assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew J. Burke Feb. 27, 1891. Money was appropriated to purchase land and erect necessary buildings. The lands allotted for the support and maintenance of the home, amounting to approximately 40,000 acres, are located in various parts of the state.

Some of the land has been sold and the money invested in bonds, the interest of which is used to partially maintain and operate the home. On Aug. 14, 1891, a Board of Commissioners, consisting of General William A. Bentley, Major George L. Foster, Col. L.  H. Hankinson, Capt. N. Linton and Capt. Harris Gardner, purchased 90 acres of land for $3,500 in the valley of the Sheyenne River, adjacent to Lisbon and known as the “Cramer Farm.”

The board selected the architectural firm of Orff Bros. of Minneapolis, MN, to draw plans and specifications for a barracks building. The contract was awarded to C.A. Leck of Minneapolis. The original barracks building was 50 x 80 feet and built of Menominee brick at a cost of $18,000. It was finished in native wood and maple floors and accommodated 50 veterans.

Col. W.W. McIvaine was elected as the first commandant and began his term May 1, 1893. C.R. Palmer of Lisbon served as the first treasurer. The Board of Admissions was made up of the chairman of the board of commissioners, commandant and surgeon. Dr. J. H. Johnson of Lisbon was the first surgeon. He served until February 1910, when he suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. Dr. T. C. Patterson performed the duties of surgeon until Dr. Johnson’s death Sept. 14, 1910, at which time Dr. Patterson was officially appointed surgeon.

The barracks building was not completed until Aug. 1, 1893, and the first veteran entered the home Aug. 2, 1893. He was George Hutchings, 73, a veteran of the Civil War and a resident of Ransom County.

During the early days of the Soldiers Home, which was renamed the North Dakota Veterans Home in 1985; the residents were required to wear uniforms which were furnished to them by the home. The coat and vest were dark blue, and the trousers were light blue. They also wore black hats.

The Board of Commissioners adopted the title of Board of Trustees in June 1897. In 1971, the title was changed to the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA). The home is governed by this body. Appointed by the governor, the administrative committee is composed of three members from each major veterans service organization. The commandant for the Veterans Home is appointed by the ACVA.

In 1899, a hospital building was erected, 35 x 57 feet, with an “L” 28 x 50 feet of Menominee brick. It was erected at an approximate cost of $16,000. In 1907, a building was constructed to serve as the commandant’s residence. It was built of Menominee brick at an approximate cost of $9,000. Horse and cattle barns, a hog house and chicken coops were erected at various times.

When the home first opened, much of the labor was performed by residents. They assisted in the laundry, kitchen, garden and keeping quarters clean. As the age group became older, this labor was not available due to physical disabilities, so civilian employees were hired. Residents now are required to do detail and, if physically able to do odd jobs, they are paid a minimum wage for those services.

Through the years, the barracks deteriorated and was in such a state of disrepair that it would have taken thousands of dollars to repair. Also, the membership was increasing to a point that additional room was necessary. The Thirtieth Session of the Legislative Assembly provided an appropriation for erection of a new barracks building that was approved March 14, 1947.

This building was constructed at an approximate cost of $600,000 and was dedicated June 7, 1950, by Gov. Fred G. Aandahl. The building was designed to accommodate 150 veterans, wives and widows. It is a four-story structure complete with modern facilities, including an automatic elevator. Dispensary type of medical care was available, with a local physician making sick-call each morning. Two practical nurses were employed; one was on night duty and the other served at intervals during the day.

The old barracks building was demolished in the summer of 1952; the entrance of this building is marked by a Civil War cannon. The hospital building, which is no longer standing, was converted into a residence for the civilian employees, and housed a $20,000 laundry in the basement.

A $1.7 million construction and remodeling project was completed in 1980, bringing it in compliance with all state and federal regulations on life safety and handicapped accessibility. Its capacity was increased to 159; new laundry facilities were provided and the craft area was expanded considerably.

A new heating plant was built in 1982, which added an electric boiler to allow the home to take advantage of off-peak electric rates. The plant also houses the oil-fired boilers which are used as standby heating, a two-stall garage and a 100KW generator used for emergency power. A 38-bed nursing home addition was completed in the fall of 1991 at a cost of $3.2 million.

The home is operated and maintained by three sources of revenue: the state general fund, federal funds and special funds.

The Veterans Home maintains a burial plot in the local cemetery, which is known as the Oakwood Cemetery. It is up to each resident and family to decide upon this site or select a preferred burial location elsewhere.

On February 27, 2009, the North Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill # 2025, which made it possible to build a new facility for the Veterans of North Dakota. In May 2011, we moved into our new state of the art Veterans Home. The new home focuses on individual households designed for 12-13 residents. Each household centers around a large living room area, open kitchen and dining area. Each household looks and feels like a home, with few medical signposts. The new home has two basic care pods that can house 98 residents and one skilled care pod that can house 52 residents. Each pod has four households connected by a hallway that leads to the center core of the building. The center core is designed with a main street theme where residents can visit the bank, library, barber shop, pool hall, museum, town hall, movie theater and chapel. The new Veterans Home utilizes green technology using a geothermal system with 738 wells that heat and cool the entire building.  Amenities at the new Home include such this as a Pool Room, Libraries, Computers, Internet Access, Family/Visitor Lounges. Hobby Area, Town Hall, Theater, Chapel, Exercise Room, Gazebo, Free popcorn, Free coffee, Pop machines, Wheelchair Accessible Van, Barber Shop and Beauty Shop, Museum, Moffit Park, Bank, Post Office, Resident Parking Spaces, Sitting Area.  The Home also provides Therapeutic Recreation / Activities Services.  Therapeutic Recreation/Activity Services serves both the Basic Care and the Skilled Nursing Units. Therapeutic Recreation (TR) is the use of recreation/leisure activities and interventions to facilitate changes in behavior based upon an identified need. This is accomplished by assisting the individual to develop and practice skills, as well as gain leisure knowledge, while promoting responsibility for a healthy and satisfying lifestyle. TR provides a comprehensive variety of services including therapy, leisure education and recreation participation. Therapy and Leisure Education are instrumental in improving and maintaining a persons physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual functioning. Recreation participation activities are designed to meet the varied interests of the residents and are opportunities which the person voluntary chooses to participate based upon their interests.

The generosity and assistance of veteran service organizations, their auxiliaries, and numerous fraternal and community clubs, enable residents to enjoy recreation opportunities.  Some examples of recreational activities provided are as follows:  Basic Care:  Bingo, Fishing Trips, Supper Club, Diners Club, Birthday Club, Movies (in-house and at local theatre), Shuffle Board, Pool Tournaments, Card Tournaments, Various Parties, Crafts, Field Trips to points of interest, Bowling, Nintendo WII, Horse Shoes, Picnics, Camp Fires, Bicycle Riding, Bank, Post Office, Resident Parking Spaces, 50s Sitting Area.  Skilled Care:  Bingo, Scenic Drives, Walks Around the Grounds, Assisted Bowling, Bean Bag Horse Shoes, Concentration, Wheel of Fortune, News/Current Events, Music Activities, Reminiscing Group, One-to-One Visits, Balloon Ball, Card Games, Exercise Group, Various Parties, Nintendo WII, Picnics.

Veterans Home Administrators (Position previously titled Commandant)

NameDates Served
Col. W.W. McIvaine1893-1903
Col. J. W. Carroll1903-1920
Capt. J. J. Rowe1920-1923
Maj. R. A. Thomson1923-1932
Dr. Larry B. McLain1932-1941
Col. J.E. Mattison1941-1946
Dr. T. C. Patterson1946-1948
Col. W. E. Cole1948-1957
William A. Cole1957-1961
Floyd E. Henderson1961-1968
Charles M. Code1968-1984
James E. Welder1984-1990
F. E. “Frank” Gathman1990- 1993
Ken Anderson1993-03
Darrol Schroeder (Interim)2003
Neal Asper2003-06
Mark Johnson2006 to present (2019)

American Legion Post #42 Bottineau presents a check to the Veteran’s Home in Lisbon for $5,000 for their activities account. 

Pictured left to right Past Department Commander and Chairman of the ACOVA Dean Overby, Administrator of ND Veterans Home Mark Johnson, Past Department Commander and member of Post #42 Jeff  Hall, ACOVA member Marlin Schneider, Past Department Commander and ACOVA member Carroll Quam and ACOVA member John Adolf.

ND American Legion Family Supports ND Veterans Home

Past Department Commander Carroll Quam’s Commander Project generated donations of a significant magnitude to support a special project for the ND Veterans Home in Lisbon, ND.  Quam was the Department Commander during the fiscal year 2008-2009 and has been generating donations for his project since the outset.  In addition to the American Legion’s contribution, the Legion Auxiliary held a fundraising drive to support the same project.
The specifics of the project, which required the combined contributions, was to assist the Veterans Home to include restroom facilities inside the gazebo.   Quam’s Commander Project generated a total of $7332.67 and Auxiliary President Carrie Heinz of the ND American Legion Auxiliary “President Project” generated $4,000 to the remodeling project as well.
Past Commander Carroll Quam and his wife Ruth Quam presented Administrator Mr. Mark Johnson the checks totaling $11,332.67 for the gazebo restroom remodeling project.  Ruth Quam is a lifetime member of the ND Legion Auxiliary and was presenting on behalf of Past President Carrie Heinz during the presentation.

North Dakota Veterans Cemetery

It had long been a dream of the veterans of North Dakota to have a National Cemetery located in the state, but they had been turned down on a number of occasions by federal authorities. Finally, the state took matters into its own hands and, in 1989, the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery was authorized by an act of the Legislative Assembly.

Although the Legislature authorized the cemetery, it provided no funding. It was difficult to create widespread interest in the cemetery and raising significant money seemed out of the question. The North Dakota National Guard learned of a federal program to be used to purchase materials that would provide training for National Guard members and at the same time construct state facilities, such as the cemetery.

Over the next three years the guard secured over $300,000 to buy materials, and it contributed an additional million dollars in labor and machinery. Construction of the cemetery began in the summer of 1989. Situated on 35 acres adjacent to Fort Lincoln State Park, the cemetery overlooks the Missouri River. Various veterans organizations, charitable foundations and concerned citizens contributed their time, talent and money to allow construction to continue. Three years later the cemetery was dedicated and the first interments held.

The facility now consists of an interment chapel, maintenance building, flag plaza and entrance gate. The grounds are irrigated and many tree, shrub and flower plantings have been made. The State Highway Department paved the entrance road and the Guard continues to train its members by performing many building and grounds projects. The Legislative Assembly has authorized and funded two maintenance positions. The rest of the operating funds come from donations and interest earned on the Militia Foundation Trust Fund, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation. This trust fund is being built from donations by veterans organizations, individuals and other sources. When it reaches its goal, the income from it will ensure perpetual care of the cemetery.

Today, over 400 of North Dakota’s sons and daughters, their spouses and dependent children are interred or memorialized in the cemetery. They include two Congressional Medal of Honor winners, veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm, all of the major wars since North Dakota became a territory.

Any United States armed forces veteran may be interred along with spouse and any dependent children. Also eligible are members of the North Dakota Army or Air National Guard and members of the various reserve components of the US military who were citizens of the state of North Dakota and whose tours of duty were served honorably.

Their spouse and dependent children also may be interred. Any uniformed member may be memorialized under the same conditions as at a national cemetery.

There are no charges for uniformed personnel, but others are required to pay a $150 interment fee. There are no other charges. The Adjutant General of the North Dakota National Guard is charged by law with supervision of the cemetery. Any questions of eligibility will be decided by the Adjutant General.

The North Dakota Veterans Cemetery is located 6.5 miles south of Mandan on Highway 1806. It is in the southwest corner of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. There is a Kiosk in the Visitor Center that has general information and a grave site locator.

North Dakota Veterans Cemetery
Wreaths Across American Project

Department of Veterans Affairs

The nucleus of the Department of Veterans Affairs in North Dakota originated with Chapter 281 of the 1927 Legislative Assembly. The Act passed at that time created an office known as “Veterans Service Commissioner.” This act provided that the office of the commissioner should he located in the same city as the office of the United States Veterans Bureau, now known as the VA Regional Office. If the Veterans Bureau would have been removed from the state, then the commissioner’s office would have been located in the state capitol in Bismarck.

The duty of the commissioner at that time was defined as follows: To investigate pending claims and to make a survey of the state to ascertain the number of veterans entitled to compensation who had not filed claims and to assist them in filing claims; to represent the veteran, his widow or dependents in securing a fair and equitable adjustment of any claim or any other benefit a veteran may be entitled to receive under the laws of the United States. The office, as created by the Legislature, continued to function until WW II.

The 1945 Legislature passed an act creating a state Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), which was to be under the supervision and control of a Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. The appointment to a two-year term commissioner was made by the governor from three persons recommended by a committee consisting of the current department commanders of the Spanish American War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the state adjutant general.

The act of creating the Department of Veterans Affairs also provided for an advisory committee of not less than seven nor more than 15 members to he appointed by the governor and chosen from representatives of all veterans organizations chartered by Congress and representatives of state and federal agencies directly concerned with veterans programs. The committee served in an advisory capacity to the DVA.

The 1945 Legislative session passed an Act authorizing the county commissioners of each county to appoint either a part-time or full-time county veterans service officer. The law provides that the appointment shall be made with the advice of the commissioner of veterans affairs. The fifty-three counties have appointed a county service officer, working under the supervision of the DVA. The department semiannually conducts a conference and school of instruction for county service officers to familiarize them with Veterans Administration regulations and proper procedures in securing benefits for veterans and their dependents. County service officers are urged to cooperate with all veterans organizations in the processing and prosecution of claims for veterans and dependents.

Powers of attorney are taken in the name of the state department when the veteran has no preference to other organizations.

Many county service officers channel claims to the DVA, which in turn presents them to the Veterans Administration. The department furnishes the county service officers copies of all information received from the VA relative to individual claims.

The 1943 legislative session established a Veterans Aid Commission consisting of three members; the number was increased to five members two years later.

The 1943 law authorized the commission to grant emergency loans of up to $50 a month, not to exceed six months, to WW II veterans; subsequent legislation increased the maximum loan to $500 and eligibility was extended to veterans who served in the other wars of our country.

The Veterans Aid Commission, later known as the Veterans Aid Loan Division, is authorized to loan up to $2,000 at 10 per cent interest, with one-half or the interest refunded if the loan is repaid on time.

A claims representative was added to the department’s staff in 1947 to process veterans’ claims and appear on their behalf at the VA’s regional office in Fargo.

In 1949, a hospital representative was added to make daily visits at the VA Hospital in Fargo and assist patients in filing for benefits.

The 1971 Legislature reorganized veterans committee and commission bodies by the passage of an act creating the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) to supervise veterans programs in North Dakota, effective July 1, 1971.

Initially, the ACVA was composed of 12 voting members, but later was increased to 15. They form a seven-member Soldiers Home (later renamed Veterans Home) subcommittee, a seven-member Veterans Affairs subcommittee and one at-large member, who serves as chairman. The governor appoints the chairman and also the secretary from among the members of the administrative committee.

Each recognized federally-chartered veterans organization operating in the state has three members serving on the committee, on a staggered basis, for three-year terms. The governor appoints the members to the committee from nominations submitted timely by the veterans groups.

In addition to the appointed members, there are four advisory members on the committee, namely: the adjutant general, Fargo Veterans Administration Center director, Job Service North Dakota director and the state director of institutions. The selection of the commissioner of veterans affairs, on a two-year term basis, became the responsibility of the ACVA. The responsibility for administering of the Veterans Aid Loan program was transferred to the commissioner of veterans affairs.

The 1971 Act eliminated (1) the North Dakota Soldiers Home Board of Trustees, (2) the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Affairs and (3) the Veterans Aid Commission.

The first veterans service commissioner for North Dakota was T.O. Kraabel, who served from April 1927 to July 1937, when he resigned to accept a position with the national rehabilitation commission of The American Legion in Washington, DC.

Romanus J. Downey succeeded Kraabel and served until his death April 23, 1947. Floyd E. Henderson was appointed commissioner of veterans affairs following Downey’s death and held this position until resigning in December 1961, when he assumed the duties of commandant of the North Dakota Soldiers Home at Lisbon. During Henderson’s tour of duty, county commissioners of each county were contacted personally by him to explain the duties of a county service officer and encourage the county boards to appoint a county veterans service officer and furnish office space in their respective courthouse. Lloyd F. Zander was appointed as Henderson’s successor; he retired June 30, 1985.

Milton W. Kane was appointed July 1, 1985, and retired Jan. 31, 1994. During his tour of duty, the ACVA approved Kane’s recommendations to establish transportation and grant programs. The transportation program implemented included one route from Stanley and another from Wishek, each with stops along the way, to pick up veterans in vans and transport them to the VA Hospital at Fargo by volunteer drivers. The vans, furnished by the DVA, are financed by earnings from the Veterans Postwar Trust Fund. The grant program, also funded from interest earnings in the trust fund, provides dental, hearing aids and glasses for needy veterans not financially able to afford these necessary services and who do not qualify under any other existing programs. Ray Harkema was appointed commissioner Feb. 1, 1994.

Commissioner of Veterans Affairs

NameDates Served
Ray Harkema1994-2004
Gene Kouba (interim)2004
Bob E. Hanson2004-2007
Tom Sumers (interim)2007-2008
Lonnie Wangen2008-present (2019)

Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACOVA)

Established on July 1, 1971 by SB 2089 of the North Dakota 42nd Legislative Assembly the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACOVA) is responsible for the organization, policy, and general administration of all veterans’ affairs in North Dakota. NDCC 37-18.1-03. It is comprised of 15 voting members, each appointed by the Governor, nominated by the five major veteran organizations in the state. Each year, the Governor is to appoint one member from a list of two names submitted by the following veteran organizations: American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America. The Committee is also comprised of three nonvoting members who are to serve in an advisory capacity – the North Dakota Adjutant General, the Center Director of the federal Veterans Affairs, and the Executive Director Job Service North Dakota. NDCC 37-18.1 The president of the ND Association of County and Tribal Veteran Service Officers (NDACTVSO) and the Director of ND Cares also serve on the ACOVA.

The Governor appoints a chairman and secretary of the Administrative Committee. NDCC 37-18.1-02

Commissioner appointment
The ACOVA appoints the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Commissioner must be a bona fide resident of the state, and must qualify as a veteran as defined in section 37-01-40. The commissioner serves at the pleasure of the ACOVA. The ACOVA determines the salary paid to the commissioner of the department of veterans’ affairs within the limits of legislative appropriation. The commissioner of veterans’ affairs serves as the executive secretary for the ACOVA subcommittee on NDDVA. The commissioner has no vote in the affairs of the subcommittee. NDCC 37-18.1-03)

N.D. Veteran Census of Wartime Military Service

During the following armed conflicts, the figures denote the number of North Dakotans who served with US armed forces in the theatre of military combat:

WarNumber who served
Spanish American War847
Mexican Borderl, 135
World War I31,269
World War II70,622
Korea25,322
Berlin Crisis790
Vietnam33,000
Desert Storm1,176
Above figures were provided by the office of the Adjutant General, Fraine Barracks, Bismarck, N.D.

Kraabel Devoted Career to Veterans Rehabilitation

North Dakotan T. O. Kraabel ‘s tireless work as a member of the team that drafted the first GI Bill of Rights was described as magnificent” in the May 1969 issue of The American Legion Magazine. That issue saluted the then surviving members of the Legion team who helped launch the revolution in American higher education and readjustment to avert massive unemployment problems for the 15 million men and women returning to civilian life after World War II service. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the landmark legislation on June 22, 1944.

Kraabel became North Dakota’s first veterans service commissioner for the 1927-37 decade. Then he joined the staff of The American Legion’s National Rehabilitation Commission in Washington, DC, in July 1937. He was that division’s director from 1941 until retiring in 1958, two years after the initial GI Bill’s educational benefits ended. He also worked on legislation that became the Korean War GI Bill.

During that tenure, he was recognized as a premier national authority in the field of rchabi1litation and veterans affairs, having started as a disbursing officer for the Veterans Bureau in Fargo in 1926 and later becoming an auditor before his 1927 gubernatorial appointment as state veterans service commissioner.

Beginning in 1930, he chaired the North Dakota Legion’s department rehabilitation committee from 1930 for eight years.

Following retirement from the Legion’s national rehab directorship in 1958, Kraabel joined the VA central office. Initially, he directed vocational rehabilitation and education services and then assembled historical data on this large federal agency until his final retirement in 1962.

Of Norwegian ancestry, Kraabel was a man ahead of his time in numerous respects. He was described as having a computer-like memory. That ability provided significant advantages in dealing with the maze of laws, regulations and procedures involved with implementation of veterans benefits.

Torger Oswald Kraabel was born Aug. 27, 1893, at Clifford, ND, where he attended school and at Portland, ND. He attended the UND in Grand Forks and was in the law school there until being inducted into the Army at Hillsboro, ND, Sept. 6, 1917.

His military duty as an enlisted man included service in France until he was discharged as a sergeant April 4, 1919, to accept a commission as a second lieutenant in the infantry. He was attached to the American Peace Commission as official courier, and in that capacity served in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany. He was discharged at Camp Dodge, Iowa, Aug. 23, 1919, as a second lieutenant.

Veterans Administration at Fargo

The Fargo Veterans Administration Medical and Regional Office was established as a Veterans Bureau Office in October 1921. The Veterans Bureau Office, as it was called at that time, was located in the Emerson-Brantingham Building on N.P. Avenue in Fargo. In November 1922, the office was relocated within the Riley Building on Roberts Street.

The Veterans Bureau Office had jurisdiction over North Dakota, 13 counties in Minnesota and three counties in Montana.

The Fargo facilities became a Regional Office Nov. 1, 1924. Formerly, the station had been a sub-district office of the Minneapolis, MN, district.

In February 1925, a committee of Fargo men including Legionnaire William Stern, L.B. Hanna and N.B. Black traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with the director of the US Veterans Bureau, Brig. Gen. Frank T. Hines. Fargo was recommended as the site of a new hospital. Formal approval came in December 1925, when the Federal Board of Hospitalization adopted a resolution recommending the expenditure of $200,000 for construction.

Congressional approval followed and a 50-acre site was purchased from Martin Hector in August 1926. Ground was broken for the 57-bed infirmary July 2, 1928, and construction was completed by the Madsen Co. of Minneapolis Feb. 19, 1929. What is now referred to as Building #1 originally cost $233,972. The first three veteran patients, all emergency cases, were admitted Monday morning, June 3, 1929. They were Ernest R. Forster, Hillsboro; Oliver L. Cofell, Edgeley, and George Hogenson, Hunter.

Concurrently, the regional office was moved from the Riley Building to the hospital. This was the first combined Regional Office and Hospital within the Veterans Bureau. The hospital building was dedicated June 29, 1929, by Gen. Hines and Paul V. McNutt, American Legion national commander.

Two hundred sixty-seven patients were treated in the first six months of operation and 533 more in the following year.

Construction of the nurses’ quarters, Building #2, was started in October 1929 and completed in February 1930 for $30,148. Construction of the garage and storage area, Building #3, was completed in October 1930.

On July 21, 1930, the Veterans Bureau and other agencies administering veterans benefits were consolidated in the Veterans Administration, a new independent agency authorized by Congress to handle veteran benefit programs.

A contract for construction of a 43-bed addition to the north of the infirmary, Building #1, was awarded in October 1932 at a cost of $50,960, increasing the capacity to 100 beds. A contract for the construction of a 76-bed addition to the south of the infirmary, Building # 1, was awarded to T.E. Powers Co. of Fargo in August 1932, to be completed in mid-1939 at $67,000 ending three years of requests by hospital officials for the addition. This increased the capacity to 176 beds.

The years 1943 and 1944 saw considerable expansion of the Department of Veterans Benefits (DVB) functions which necessitated additional space. The Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Division and Chief Attorney’s Office were thus moved from the hospital building to the Interstate Business College Building in downtown Fargo. The workload in regional office activities increased dramatically after World War II. Therefore, in 1946, additional space was leased in the Universal Building. Eventually, the VA occupied 25,000 square feet in this building and all the regional office activities were located there.

A new hospital building was authorized in 1945 and Building #9 was completed and occupied in 1947. This increased the capacity of the hospital to 400 beds. In 1954, former bed space in Building #1 was converted into office space. This provided for the return of regional office activities from the Universal Building. Once again all activities of the center were placed under one roof.

The opening of a 24-bed Nursing Home Care Unit occurred June 1, 1964. This was the first Nursing Home Care Unit to open at any Veterans Administration Field Station. On Dec. 18, 1965, 26 additional nursing home care beds were added.

The center became affiliated with the University of North Dakota’s newly-established four year Medical School in 1974. In 1978, The Medical School dedicated its new education building on center grounds.

In 1979, the DVB activities again relocated into a newly-remodeled downtown Federal Building. This relocation provided new and enlarged facilities for the regional office. Concurrently, space has been vacated within the hospital building for the center’s increased roles in patient care, research and medical education.

Observing it’ 50th anniversary in 1979, the center had become a complex organization consisting of a modern 224-bed General Medical and Surgical Hospital, a 50-bed Nursing Home Care Unit and a Veterans Benefits Regional Office.

Beginning construction in early 1984, the new clinical addition became operational in 1986 The structure, Building #46, provided some 73,000 square feet of new space for expanded ambulatory care, medical and clinical services. Equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology, the cost of the new facility was approximately $18 million.

Effective Jan. 1, 1989, the Veterans Administration became a cabinet-level agency — the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For over a decade, The American Legion and other veterans organizations had worked for the elevation of the VA to cabinet status. After being deleted several times from the VA’s proposed budget for construction projects, the funds to erect a new regional office on the Fargo VA station were finally approved in the early 1990s. Construction commenced in the spring of 1993, and the $2.2 million building (#40) was formally dedicated May 6, 1994, by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown. It became the permanent home of the Regional Office when it was transferred from the Federal Building downtown, the third time that this office was returned to the VA center’s home base. The 23,000 square feet of space in this brick veneer building accommodates the Veterans Services, Adjudication, Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling Divisions, office operations and offices for six service organizations.

New computer technology was installed, enhancing operational efficiency. In addition to 50 nursing care beds, the Fargo hospital had a fiscal year ’94 allocation of 113 beds to provide general medical and surgical services to veterans.

The mission of the center continues to provide the best possible care and service, including a large prescription volume, to the veteran population it serves.


Name & PositionDates Served
C.T. Hoverson, Manager1929-45
George E. Beckstrom, Manager1946-48
Charles P. Medley, Manager1948-53
Harry R. Pool, Manager1953-55
William B. Carroll, Director1955-58
Walter R. Byrd, Director1958-59
John R. Parrish, Director1960-67
Alan L. Rice, Director1967-75
Irvin D. Noll, Director1975-80
F.E. “Frank” Gathman, Director1980-86
Dr. David Engstrom, Director1986-88
Donald H. Colston, Director1989-92
Douglas Kenyon, Director1992-2002
LaVonne Liversage2002-2019

Chiefs of Staff at Fargo VA Hospital

NameDates Served
Dr. H.C. Manaugh 1939-48
Dr. Roy K. Quamme1948-53
Dr. Lad J. Kucera1953-56
Dr. Charles P. Henke1956-57
Dr. Wallace Pianka1958-67
Dr. Wallis L. Craddock1967-68
Dr. Michael Koszalka1969-70
Dr. Charles T. Eginton1971-78
Dr. Michael J. Kelly1978-81
Dr. David Engstrom1981-86
Dr. Barry Graham1987-92
Dr. Ned Nichols1993-2010
Dr. Weintraub2010-2019

John Moses VA Hospital Opened in 1950 at Minot

Dedicated June 11, 1950, the John Moses Veterans Administration Hospital at Minot began operations July 5, 1950.

The 162-bed facility was designed so that every patient would have an outside room. Since the hospital was running half empty, the US Air Force in early 1959 requested that this VA plant he transferred to the Air Force to provide needed medical facilities for personnel and dependents at the new air base north of Minot. Air Force officials promised to admit all eligible veterans from the area and provide the medical care they need by a staff of physicians more than doubling the VA’s doctoral staff.

Effective July 1, 1959, the hospital was turned over to the Air Force under the command of Col. William Bradley. A contract bed arrangement has been maintained by the VA with the Air Force to provide medical care to area veterans.

Named for the late Gov. John Moses, who also was elected to the US Senate, the hospital continued to be known by that name locally; but, in official Air Force channels, it was listed as the “32nd United States Air Force Hospital.”

In 1988, the John Moses Hospital was closed when the Air Force moved into its newly-constructed hospital at the Minot AFB. The Air Force continues to honor its commitment to provide medical care to area veterans on a need basis at the air base.

Managers, VA Hospital – Minot

NameDates Served
Dr. John Mc Hugh1950-52
Dr. Roland W. Hipsley1952-55
James F. Haile1955-58
E.P. Whitaker1958-59

VOLUNTEERISM AND THE VA VOLUNTARY SERVICE PROGRAM

This program was developed in 1946 to provide voluntary services to veteran patients at VA hospitals. Fargo’s Gilbert C. Grafton Post #2 has been active at the Fargo VA Medical Center in this worthy program since the post-WW II years.

During his State of the Union Address in January 2002, President George W. Bush called upon every American to get involved in strengthening America’s communities and sharing American’s compassion around the world. He called on each of us to commit at least two years of our lives, the equivalent of 4,000 hours, to the service of others. He included all Americans because everyone can do something; therefore, he created the USA Freedom Corps to help all Americans answer his call. The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) Program is the largest volunteer program in the Federal Government and has provided over 60 years of service to America’s veterans seeking care in VA health care facilities. Since 1946, VAVS volunteers have donated 677 million hours of service. There are more than 350 national and community organizations that support the VAVS program and there are more than 136,000 VAVS volunteers nationwide.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) Program is the largest volunteer program in the Federal Government and has provided over 60 years of service to America’s veterans seeking care in VA health care facilities.  Since 1946, VAVS volunteers have donated 677 million hours of service.  There are more than 350 national and community organizations that support the VAVS program and there are more than 136,000 VAVS volunteers nationwide.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service (VAVS) Program is the largest volunteer program in the Federal Government and has provided over 60 years of service to America’s veterans seeking care in VA health care facilities.  Since 1946, VAVS volunteers have donated 677 million hours of service.  There are more than 350 national and community organizations that support the VAVS program and there are more than 136,000 VAVS volunteers nationwide.

In fiscal year 2007, at the Fargo VA Medical Center (VAMC), 345 volunteers contributed 31,959 hours of service to our veterans.  In reference to the President’s Call to Service, 27 of the volunteers at the Fargo VAMC have surpassed the 4,000 hour milestone. There are approximately 43 volunteer assignments in the Voluntary Service Program at the Fargo VAMC in which VA volunteers assist veteran patients by supplementing staff in such settings as Direct Patient Care, Clinical areas, Escort Service, administrative support, hospital wards, Greeter Program, Care Ambassador Program, shuttle service in the VA parking lot, visit patients with the library cart or comfort cart, provide recreation  activities, and provide van service around the state for veterans needing transportation to the Fargo VAMC for their appointments.  Volunteers are one of our nation’s greatest resources and a critical asset to the Fargo Medical Center and the facility could not carry out the mission without them.

Some of the reasons people volunteer are:

  • To improve the quality of life for somebody
  • Do something useful, fun, enjoyable or rewarding
  • Support something in which they believe or contribute to a cause that is important to them
  • Make new friends, join peers, or belong to a group
  • Repay what they have received or give back to the community
  • Relieve boredom and feel like they are needed
  • And of course at the VA, the volunteers have the opportunity to work with veterans, VA employees and fellow volunteers

Research has also shown that volunteering leads to better health and older volunteers are more likely to receive physical and mental health benefits from their volunteer activities, volunteering leads to a sense of greater self-worth, and volunteers are more likely to live longer.

Legion Auxiliary Brings Christmas to Hospitalized Veterans

Veterans confined to three health care facilities in North Dakota are provided with opportunities for a little something extra in December by the state American Legion Auxiliary.

A gift shop is brought to veterans in the State Hospital in Jamestown, at the Veterans Home and Nursing Home in Lisbon and at the Veterans Hospital in Fargo.

Veterans are given choices of gifts for themselves, for someone else at home or for some other loved one. This is done free of charge to the veteran. The Christmas gifts are mailed if that is needed Gift items are supplied primarily by Auxiliary units, which also provide money so gift shop program chair and co-chairpersons can go out and buy articles to meet specific requests.

The Minnesota Department of The American Legion Auxiliary supplies some gift items for hospi1alized veterans at the Fargo VA Hospital, which also provides medical care to veterans residing in northwestern Minnesota.

This project was started shortly after World War II. Originally, it was held in a quonset-type building on the VA grounds and later was moved to the third floor auditorium.

There has been a Legion Auxiliary office at the Fargo VA Medical Center since 1929.

North Dakota American Legion Family Donates to Fargo VA Healing Gardens

The North Dakota American Legion Family presented the Fargo VA Health Care System a $16,000 donation for the Healing Gardens construction on the grounds of the VA Hospital.  The 2012-2013 State American Legion Commander Dave Rice and American Legion Auxiliary President Linda Juntunen, along with the Sons of the American Legion, designated the Healing Gardens for their special project.

The outdoor healing gardens provide a place for recreation and therapy for veterans and their families. The healing gardens feature walking paths, pergolas, gazebos, trees, flowers, and ample space to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery and fresh air.

Burns on National Rehabilitation Staff

Edwards P. Burns served on the Legion’s national rehabilitation commission for over nine years, beginning January 1946 as a Service Officer trainee for six months in Fargo, his hometown. He was assigned to the Legion’s branch office at St. Paul, MN, in June 1946 for three years.

In June 1949, he was transferred to the commission’s headquarters at Washington, DC, performing various veterans rehabilitation duties for six years, then accepting a position in June 1955 at the Veterans Administration central office in Washington, DC.

A veteran of WW II, Burns served with the 164th Infantry of the North Dakota Guard and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for action on Guadalcanal.

History of Legion Poppy Program

The 1920 American Legion national convention at Cleveland adopted the poppy as its flower and was the first great American organization to do so. So the poppy was used for the 1921 flower sale in North Dakota. The Auxiliary adopted the poppy as, its memorial flower at its 1921 national convention in Kansas City.

Legion Conducted Daisy Sale in 1922

The Legion at its next national convention in 1921 at Kansas City reversed itself and selected the daisy as its flower. This action resulted, at least in part, in the flowcr matter hccorn1ng entangled and confused in a number of resolutions being voted upon en bloc at that convention. Thus, the daisy was used in the 1922 flower sale (The Auxiliary in North Dakota postponed its poppy drive to July 4th to avoid interference with the Legion’s daisy sale on Memorial Day.)

Poppy Restored For 1923 Sale

The Auxiliary voted at its 1922 national convention to ask the national Legion to work with it to bring about the adoption and use of the same poppy by both organizations. The result was the prompt adoption of the poppy by the Legion.

This brought considerable pride to Auxil1ary members for having aided in restoring the flow in 1923 to its former status as a memorial used in the annual drive for funds to aid in the rehabilitation of veterans and the welfare of their families.

The Legion sales program in North Dakota was organized at the state level, with each local Post or the Auxiliary unit if it was asked by the Post to conduct the sale, sharing in the proceeds of the sale. The state Legion’s share of the proceeds has been applied towards the operation of the Service Department.

As the years progressed, efficient coordination was developed with the Auxiliary in conducting the annual sale. The average annual net proceedes for the 1922-29 period was $2,176.

In 1929, the state Legion and Auxiliary agreed to have the Auxiliary conduct the annual poppy sale and then share the proceeds with the Legion beginning in 1930.

That agreement was cancelled effective after the 1985 sale, when the poppy program was transferred to the complete control of the Auxiliary. The Legion’s share of poppy proceeds from 1930 to 1985 averaged $1,588.

Poppy Sellers at Casselton

Two former Casselton Junior Auxiliary members (mature women now) remember the “hard sell” they faced as young, energetic girls in the Depression and pre-World War II years when they hit the streets on orders of their Auxiliary mothers and coerced hometown residents to buy poppies for an Auxiliary fundraiser.

Jean Buth (Nesheim now) recalls there were numerous times when she stood on the street “going nose to nose with some of those old duffers, and they wouldn’t cough up a dime … As a kid, I couldn’t understand that.” However, she balances that with memories of neighbors who “considered that 10 cents was a good deal” for handmade paper poppies to bring in money for veterans rehabilitation.

Phyllis English (Schultz now) is about five years older than Nesheim. She, too, remembers those lean years — and she sees problems coming, especially in participation.

Joining the other young girls, each with bundles of poppies in their arms, they “would try to sell them for a dime each and people would say, ‘Is a nickel enough?”

Back then, Schultz recalls, the girls would turn in about $40 for their pre-Memorial Day efforts. About $300 is collected now, she says, although she feels there is declining interest in selling poppies in Casselton, both in Junior Auxiliary members and their mothers.

“They just have too many things taking up their time, I guess,” she says. Schultz feels that her observation is based on her record of being in the Auxiliary of Rugg-Heille Post 15 for all but about five years of the department’s 75-year history. Her mother enrolled her in the Junior Auxiliary for $1 shortly after she was born. She also is the Casselton Auxiliary unit’s poppy chair in 1994.

The Perspective of a Retired VA Medical Center Director

Editor’s Note: F.E. “Frank” Gathman, a native of Anamoose, ND, developed the following views after he retired in 1986 as director of the Fargo Veterans Administration Medical and Regional Office Center. A career VA employee, he started in engineering services in Fargo and served at various other centers before being promoted to senior executive service positions. He became director of the Fargo VA Center in 1980. Following his retirement, Gathman served as chairman of the Legion’s department veterans affairs and rehabilitation committee, 1987-90. In 1990, he was named commandant of the North Dakota Veterans Home at Lisbon. He held that post into 1993.

An experienced look at the Veterans Administration and its past, present and future in the delivery of health care to the veterans of the United States can be rather invigorating – especially if past constraints could be assigned to help maintain the viability of a proud organization.

Going back to the 1980s and the planning and construction of the clinical addition to the VA Medical Center in Fargo shows some of the wisdom of the VA as it relates to inpatient care versus outpatient treatment or care.

Funding in the budget was not only given based on inpatient care and number of outpatient visits but also on the complexity of the level of care provided throughout each VA medical center. Diagnostic related groups dealt with appropriate funding for cases including open heart surgery, kidney transplants and complex neurology. The funding covered all specialty areas in medicine, surgery or psychiatry versus a less complex means where no credit was given for high levels of expensive care.

In turn, the VA began to shorten the length of stay in the hospital to more closely align with the private sector. The past, long and expensive stay in the VA could be shortened and treated with outpatient care prior to and following shortened inpatient care. The trend towards outpatient care reduced the need for inpatient beds at Fargo and more veterans were treated as outpatients with shorter inpatient care.

Another trend developed in which the emphasis on hospital-based nursing care shifted to placement of veterans in state veteran homes or community-based nursing homes. This left nursing homes available for rehabilitative care following surgery or recovery from strokes at greatly reduced expense than intense inpatient care.

These trends have impacted on VA affiliations with medical schools nationwide. The impact can be seen at Fargo where active specialties such as cardiology are greatly reduced. It is essential that a viable patient population exist to properly train medical students and residents in the many medical and surgical specialties or the medical schools will cease to utilize the VA and the veteran would be the ultimate loser. The Fargo VA can be proud of the excellent affiliation that it enjoys with the University of North Dakota Medical School and the improved level of care provided to its veteran population.

The new clinical addition at the Fargo VA Medical Center has helped change the method of care to the veteran from inpatient long-term care to outpatient treatment with intense inpatient care as needed. Future trends that should be developed to better care for the veteran and be less costly to the taxpayer can be:

1. Adult day care which would enable the patient to live at home and be given structured care at the VA on a daily basis, five days a week.

2. Respite care which would bring the veteran into the hospital once or twice a year or as needed to provide medical care and give the spouse or family a break from the daily care provided in the home.

3. Better coordination with state veterans homes for placement of veterans from the VA and a national VA funding mechanism established to encourage these homes to provide adult day care, respite care and home health care.

4. Develop more outpatient clinics throughout the state which would reduce the many miles a veteran must travel for care, especially in states such as North Dakota. Inter-active TV could be utilized to better enable the community-based physician to utilize the greater expertise existing in the VA Medical Center.

5. If the VA is to maintain its nationwide affiliations with the country’s medical schools, the necessary patient population must be available to properly train these young physicians or the VA might retreat to the days of yester-year or even consign all veterans to the private sector.

Legion Plays Large role in Jobs for Veterans Programs

Serving veterans’ economic needs, especially finding them jobs, always has been an American Legion goal. As early as 1921, Legion volunteers served with the Legion’s National Employment Commission and helped some 200,000 World War I comrades find jobs. The numbers soared in the millions after World War II and subsequent military entanglements.

North Dakota Department and Post officers joined national Legion leaders in backing employment and reemployment legislation for veterans and their widows. They also pushed for enactment of veterans’ preference in federal and state employment and argued for special Job programs for disabled veterans and older workers.

In 1931, Lynn U. Stambaugh of Fargo became the first department employment officer for the state’s part in putting one million people back to work in the nation. The state program tried to induce people to have some necessary work done or some service performed or to buy some needed commodity or other merchandise that had been put off on account of the Depression.

Stambaugh reported to the department convention in Devils Lake in July 1932 that activities were slow in starting, but responses from the business community were more gratifying four months into the year. By the end of the Legion year, 16 Posts indicated that 3,724 people had become employed through the program. The Fargo post listed 2,601 working; Minot had 444, Grand Forks 250, Jamestown 155 and Wahpeton 100. Each of the other 11 Posts reporting had fewer than l 00 people hired prior to the state convention report.

Stambaugh noted that 907,420 had been listed as hired nationally by time his convention report was submitted for printing. On a proportional basis nationally, the North Dakota effort was considered successful and the national one-million hire goal was achieved that summer.

In addition, Legion Posts became hometown relief agencies by becoming food and housing centers. The Posts helped turn many unemployed veterans into tax paying citizens, community leaders and even Legionnaires.

Much the same took place after World War II by time the last of some 15 million former military personnel had returned home to a peacetime economy that replaced bombs with bungalows and tanks with television sets. As it did nationally in begin the greatest piece of social legislation ever, the GI Bill provided the means for North Dakota veterans to go to college, learn trades and be able to get loans to start anew in building a better state and nation.

Getting ready for this influx, the 1943 Legislature established a veterans aid commission. The law authorized the commission, now known as the Veterans Aid Loan Division within the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, to grant emergency loans. Initially a smaller amount, the loan maximum now is $2,000 at 10 per cent interest, with one-half of the interest refunded if the loan is repaid on time.

The early 1970s saw another slackening in the national economy. Veterans back from tours of duty in Southeast Asia presented employment problems that demanded immediate attention. North Dakota was asked by national Legion headquarters to be among 17 states in a pilot program to assist veterans in bringing work, workers and employers together. Various state and federal agencies stood side by side with employers and the state Legion in setting up veterans Job Fairs.

Minot hosted the first of five job fairs between Sept. 22, 1970, and April 21, 1972. Fargo had two fairs in that period. Grand Forks and Bismarck joined Minot in sponsoring one each.

More than 1,600 North Dakota and western Minnesota veterans registered with 240 potential employers in the first-ever statewide job search for veterans nationally. An accurate account is not known for the number of veterans hired directly through the effort, but 250 is a conservative count.

Soon after the first Job Fair at Minot, Gov. William L. Guy called a meeting of leaders of veterans groups and heads of agencies serving veterans in North Dakota to plan a statewide program for obtaining jobs for veterans.  This meeting led to Gov. Guy establishing a Governor’s Job for Veterans Task Force, which remained active for a few years until the job market improved. The task force planned and promoted various initiatives urging employers to reach out with jobs for veterans.

Another special service, the Cooperative Veterans Outreach Program, was developed nationally in the early 70s between the American Association of Junior Colleges and the Legion and was expanded later to include private colleges. Implemented in North Dakota, this program was aimed at contacting more returning vets and urging them to make use of their GI benefits by seeking education or training.

Names were released to interested local colleges of returning GIs, with the understanding that the lists be used only for encouraging more veterans to enter school or training. Particular effort was made to enlist the Collegiate Vets club on campus to assist the colleges in contacting them.

Roy Fillion Receives National Employment Award

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Mr. Roy Fillion was awarded the National Economic Commission Service Awards in the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist category.  Fillion was presented this award at the National Convention in August 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Roy is employed with the Job Service North Dakota Office in Grand Forks, ND.  His primary functions include the Veteran Upward Bound Program, interacting with the regional business activities to increase the awareness of both returning veterans and those veterans with disabilities to find employment in northeastern North Dakota. His additional duties includes, working the Job Fair market, focusing on the employers’ needs and works to match up veteran skills with the skill sets required.

Fillion consistently out performs the expectations or goals associated with a program.  His personality and driven attitude to serve the veterans made him the best candidate for this award.  The North Dakota American Legion extends our grateful congratulations and thanks him for his support of the veterans of this state.

Brad Aune Receives National Employment Award

Mr. Brad Aune was awarded the National Economic Commission Service Award in the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) Specialist category.  Aune was presented this award at the National Convention in August 2017 in Reno, Nevada. 
Brad is employed with the Job Service North Dakota Office in Fargo, ND.  His primary functions include his outreach to our Veteran Service Organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the communities in Southeast North Dakota.  Aune consistently out performs the expectations or goals associated with a program and puts his heart and soul into finding a resolution for the veterans.
The North Dakota American Legion extends our grateful congratulations on this National Award and we thank him for his support of the veterans of this state.

Legion Members Plan for Future, Establish “LOVE” Charitable Trust

The American Legion, Department of North Dakota, looked ahead in 1978 and saw a future financial need of the department to maintain programs. For well over half a century, American Legion members had been busy making their communities, state and nation a better place to live. Marvelous programs serving people, especially our youth, had been established, such as American Legion baseball, Boys State, Oratorical contests and others.

Looking ahead, Legionnaires recognized the probable decline in membership and, as a consequence, a reduction in dollars to carry out these programs. Thus, during the commandership of Otto A. “Pete” Helm of New Rockford, the ground work for a trust was laid and the title, ”Legion Ongoing Veterans Endowment,” was chosen with the acronym ”LOVE.”

Establishing a charitable trust required certification from the Internal Revenue Service and the state of North Dakota. In 1982, the paperwork was, completed and our department Judge advocate, after reviewing the tax-exemption status granted by the IRS under Section 501 (c) (19), declared the trust eligible to receive charitable gifts.

A three-members  board of directors was established with one member from each of the regions in the department. Ex-officio (non-voting) officers also serving on the board included the department commander, adjutant, financial officer and judge advocate. Board members’ terms were set at three years. Upon expiration, the board members were to be nominated by the commander with the concurrence of the department executive committee.

Interest earned from the investments of the trust was dispersed by the board of directors to support Legion and other charitable programs such as Oratorical contest scholarships, North Dakota Boys State, Veterans Administration Hospital Patient Services Fund, North Dakota Veterans Home, North Dakota Militia Foundation (for the state veterans cemetery), the USO Persian Gulf Fund and other worthy activities.

Donations totaling $16,385 was dispersed from the LOVE trust through fiscal year 1994. As of May 31, 1994, the LOVE trust had a balance of $64,378.

Members serving on the board of directors during 1993-94 were William Haug, Grand Forks; Dennis Mock, Bismarck, and Norman Erdman, Ralph, SD.

In 1994, the LOVE trust was expanded with the creation of a 501 (c) nonprofit charitable foundation. The new foundation, which includes The American Legion and The American Legion Auxiliary, serves as the custodian of funds for investment.

Proceeds from earned interest provide the basis for charitable gifts to American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary programs.

The foundation is open to charitable gifts from individuals, with tax benefits provided for the gifts within the parameters set forth by the Internal Revenue Service.

Legion Cites N.D. Firms Employing Older Workers

The following employers in North Dakota have been successfully nominated to receive the Legion’s citation for employing the older worker:

1969- Home of Economy Store, Grand Forks

1970-Ellisons “The Fair,” Minot

1971-Krischmann Manufacturing Company, Bismarck

1972-Schyenne Memorial Nursing Home and Manor, Valley City

1973-Montgomery Ward & Company, Minot

1974-Mon-Dak Chemical & Supply, Minot

1975-North Dakota State Hospital, Jamestown

1976- Valley Memorial Home, Grand Forks

1977-The Crippled Children’s School, Jamestown

1978-The Jamestown Sun, Jamestown

1979-Burlington Northern, Inc., Dakota Division, Jamestown

1980-Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, Jamestown

1981-Otter Tail Power Company, Jamestown

1982-Montana-Dakota Utilities, Inc., Jamestown

1983-Western Gear Corporation, Jamestown

1984-Whitc Drug Enterprises, Inc., Jamestown

1985-Ccntral Dakota Nursing Home, Jamestown

1986-Job Service North Dakota, Jamestown

1987-Keith’s Fashion’s, Jamestown

1988-Turtle Mountain Corporation, Dunseith

1989-Kelly Temporary Services, Bismarck

1991-Newman Signs, Inc., Jamestown