History of the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs
The nucleus of the Department of Veterans' Affairs for the State of 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 be located in the same city as the office of the United States Veterans' Bureau but in event the Veterans' Bureau should ever be removed from the State, then the Commissioner's Office would be located in the State Capitol at 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 have not filed claims and to assist them in filing such 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 that Act of the Legislature continued to function until World War II.
At the 1945 session of the Legislature an Act was passed creating a State Department of Veterans' Affairs which was to be under the supervision and control of a Commissioner, known as Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs. The appointment of the Commissioner is made by the Governor from three persons recommended to the Governor by a Committee consisting of the current Department Commander of the Spanish War Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Adjutant General of the State of North Dakota. (This committee has been changed to include the Department Commanders from the American Legion, VFW, DAV, AMVETS, and VVA.) The term of office for the Commissioner is for a period of two years from July 1 of each odd numbered calendar year.
The Act of creating the Department of Veterans' Affairs also provided for an Advisory Committee of not less than seven or more than fifteen members to be appointed by the Governor and chosen from representatives of all veterans organizations chartered by the Congress of the United States and representatives of State and Federal Agencies directly concerned in the veteran's program. Such a Committee serves in an advisory capacity to the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The 1945 Legislative session passed an Act authorizing the County Commissioners of each county in the State to appoint either a part-time or full-time County Veterans' Service Officer. The law provides such appointment shall be made with the advice of the Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs. Fifty three counties in the State of North Dakota at the present time have appointed someone as a recognized County Service Officer. The Department semi-annually conducts a Conference and School of Instruction for County Service Officers for the purpose of familiarizing the Service Officer with Veterans Administration regulations and proper procedure in securing benefits for veterans and their dependents. The County Service Officers are urged by the Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs to cooperate with all veterans organizations in the processing and prosecution of claims for the veteran and dependents. Power of Attorney are taken in the name of the State Department when the veteran has no preference to other organizations. Many of the County Service Officers channel their claims through the State Department, who in turn presents them to the Veterans Administration. The Department furnishes the County Service Officers copies of all information received from the Veterans Administration relative to individual claims.
At the 1943 session of the Legislature there was established a Veterans' Aid Commission consisting of three members. The Veterans Service Commissioner was designated as Executive Secretary of the Veterans' Aid Commission. An appropriation was made and the commission was authorized to grant emergency loans to discharged veterans of World War II in an amount not to exceed $50.00 a month for a period not in excess of six months. In 1945 this law was amended increasing the members of the commission to five, one of which should be the State Commissioner of Veterans' Affairs. In 1947 the amount permitted to be loaned veterans was increased from $300.00 to $500.00. The State Department of Veterans' Affairs and the business office of the Veterans' Aid Commission occupy the same office space and coordinate the work of the two departments. The Veterans' Aid Commission is now known as the "Veterans Aid Loan Division" and the amount permitted to loan is up to $5,000 at 8% interest with one-half of interest refunded if loan is repaid on time.
In 1993, a Hardship Emergency Grant Program was established. The purpose of this assistance is to provide monies to give aid and comfort to veterans. Spouses or unremarried widow/widowers of eligible veterans were included later. The individual must have an emergency need of dental work, eye glasses, hearing aids, transportation for medical treatment, or any special need approved by the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. Funding comes from the PostWar Trust Fund interest earnings and is obligated by the Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs. It is in their sole discretion to set the guidelines and policies the department follows for this program.
Due to the aging of the World War II and Korean Conflict veteran population, the Department has made it possible to transport veterans to the VA Hospital in Fargo and to three community based outpatient clinics, Grafton, Minot and Bismarck. The veterans transportation system currently has 5 vans on scheduled routes bringing veterans across the state to Fargo, North Dakota or Miles City, Montana. The cost of the program is underwritten in part by the Post War Trust Fund.
The first Veterans Service Commissioner for the State of North Dakota was Mr. T. O. Kraabel who served from April 1927 to July of 1937 when he resigned to accept a position with the National Rehabilitation Commission of the American Legion in Washington, D.C.
Mr. 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.
Lloyd F. Zander was appointed as Henderson's successor, retiring June 30, 1985.
Milton W. Kane was appointed July 1, 1985, retired January 31, 1994.
Ray Harkema was appointed February 1, 1994, retired April 30, 2004.
Bob Hanson was appointed September 1, 2004, served until September 2007.
Lonnie Wangen was appointed April 1, 2008.
|Task Responsibility||Commissioner||Administrative Sub-Committee||Full
|1. Formulation and control of Budget||X|
|2. Budget Approval||X||X|
|3. Hiring Commissioner, Salary & Guidance||X||X|
|4. Commissioner Guidelines||X|
|5. Staff Hiring / Dismissal||X|
|6. Staff / Appeal Procedures||X||X|
|7. Staff Supervision||X|
|8. Staff Salary||X|
|9. Implementation of Programs and Services provided for veterans||X||X||X|
|10. Law Change Recommendations||X||X||X|
|11. Regulation Changes||X||X||X|
|12. Presenting recommendations to full committee||X|
|13. Equipment procurement||X||X (beyond budget)|
|14. Emergency Commission Requests||X|
|15. Daily Operation of Department of Veterans Affairs||X|
|16. State Personnel Policy Implementation||X|
|17. Coordination with other State Agencies||X|
|18. Coordination with Federal Agencies||X|
|19. Control of Claims, Veterans Aid Loans and Grants||X|
|20. Department Employee Travel||X|
|21. Employee Out of State Travel||X||X|
|22. Notification of Sub-Committee Meetings||X||X|
|23. Legislative Hearings||X|