North Dakota’s First Veterans’ Treatment Court Opens in Grand Forks – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — After years of advocacy for North Dakota veterans, the Northeast Central Judiciary officially opened its Veterans Affairs Tribunal on Friday afternoon, May 12.

Chief Judge Donald Hager, also a veteran, led the hearing in the Grand Forks County Courthouse, where the VTC will be held.

“It’s certainly been a long struggle,” Hager said. “…people from all over the state are involved, not just Grand Forks.”

North Dakota’s Director of Veterans Affairs Ronnie Wangen said the VTC has been on his to-do list since 2010.

“Today is a very important day for me,” Wangen said. “It’s going to be a big day for veterans.”

Wangen said the first VTC was founded in Buffalo, New York, in 2008.

Since then, every state except North Dakota and Vermont has established a VTC. There are over 400 of his VTCs nationwide.

“If we can save one veteran, it’s worth all the effort we’ve put in,” Wangen said. “We know it’s going to be much more than that. We have a 98% success rate[in the Buffalo therapeutic courts]. It’s amazing.”

Wangen said people in North Dakota and Minnesota raise good, patriotic children. As a result, many young people enter the military and are taught that you can’t always be kind.

“They walk away and unfortunately end up seeing or participating in something different than what they were raised with,” says Wangen. “…what we’ve learned is that we don’t really train them to come back home….you go out and do some terrible things. try to deal with it.You go home and it’s very difficult.Be the citizen you used to be.”

Megan Esig, the wife of a veteran and assistant state attorney, also spoke at the ceremony. She said some veterans often self-medicate and self-destruct after returning home from deployment.

“Convicting them of crimes and putting them in jail does not solve the underlying problem,” said Esig. “…through the justice system, we can help those who have contributed so much. I can give you an opportunity.”

The mission of the VTC is to “promote the recovery, stability, and accountability of veterans involved in the justice system through oversight and service-oriented instruction. will come true.”

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Veteran Jay Jansen from Fargo poses for a photo of art created by local veterans during the official opening of the Veterans Affairs Tribunal at the Grand Forks County Courthouse on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Eric Hilden/Grand Forks Herald

Those involved in this effort include: North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, North Dakota Veterans Service Officer, Office of the Deputy General, State Attorney’s Office, Public Counsel, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ND Job Services, ND Department of Behavioral Health , including representatives of the Northeastern Department. Department of Human Services, legislators, judges, North Dakota court officials, law enforcement, and veterans themselves.

There are five phases for treatment forensic participants, addressing stabilization, commitment, inducing change, planning for life success, and continuity of care.

This court is called “VALOR”, which is an acronym for “Veteran Accountability Leading to Oncoming Recovery”.

“There are no free riders. They are still held accountable for what they have done within the criminal system,” Hager said. “And it’s ongoing. That means it’s never over, it’s never cured, it’s never solved for veterans. So for them, every day is a battle. We’re all on this committee.” recognizes that, and we are here to help them win, one day at a time.”

Sabu Kelly will join the Grand Forks Herald in August 2022.

Kelly covers public safety, including local crime and the court system.

Readers can contact Kelly at (701) 780-1102 or

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