Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - 03:53 pm

Gov. Doug Burgum met today with U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie during his visit to North Dakota, discussing ways to continue to enhance services for veterans and thanking the secretary for the VA’s plan to award a grant to build a columbarium at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery near Mandan.

During a lunch meeting that included U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, the governor and secretary covered ongoing efforts to enhance suicide prevention and behavioral health services, as well as how advancements in telemedicine can improve access to health services for veterans.

They also discussed the potential of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. In May, Burgum signed legislation providing a $335,000 grant to develop an HBOT pilot program in North Dakota, and state lawmakers passed a resolution urging Congress to provide veterans with medical coverage for the therapy. This morning, Wilkie toured a Fargo HBOT clinic, Healing Hyperbarics of North Dakota, which is partnering with the VA.

Burgum also thanked Wilkie for a VA letter today informing the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs that the VA plans to award a grant to build a columbarium as an above-ground resting place for cremains at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. The North Dakota Adjutant General’s Office, which oversees the cemetery, applied for a $1.3 million grant in June. The columbarium will hold up to 1,800 urns and has been designed in partnership with students at North Dakota State University’s landscape architecture department.

“North Dakota has a long and proud history of taking care of our military veterans, and we’re grateful for Secretary Wilkie’s cooperation and efforts to modernize services and provide veterans with the best care possible,” Burgum said. “We’re committed to working with the VA to ensure that those who served their country with courage and honor will continue to receive the excellent care they deserve long after their service has ended.”

Burgum and the state Legislature took several actions this year to support veterans and make North Dakota an even more military-friendly state, including:

  • Exempting military retirement benefits from state income tax for retired military personnel and their spouses.
  • Providing funds to defray the cost of burying the spouses and dependents of military veterans at the state Veterans Cemetery with their loved ones, where they belong.
  • Providing occupational license reciprocity for eligible trailing spouses of military personnel to help keep military families together and address the state’s workforce shortage.