FARGO — Victims of crime in North Dakota may be able to get help paying for therapy thanks to a federal grant awarded to a Fargo-based nonprofit.
For the first time, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation awarded $25,000 to Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, according to a news release. That money, which comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, will be used to help cover therapy fees and associated expenses for victims who need mental health support.
“It is going to change the game because people are not going to have to choose between whether they pay their electric bill this month or whether they get therapy,” said Terri Sonsthagen Burns, intake coordinator for the Victims of Crime Act program at LSS. “It’s going to open a lot of doors, I hope, for people.”
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The funds were set up through the DOJ’s Victims of Crime Act, the release said. The grant is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders instead of tax dollars, according to the DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime.
Through the program, North Dakota awarded $4.6 million to 46 victim service agencies — both private nonprofits and government-run county operations.
The VOCA funds don’t have to go toward therapy, Tyler Spomer, grant and victim compensation manager with the DOCR, wrote in an email. They can pay for other victim-related initiatives such as crisis intervention, sheltering, advocacy in court, transportation and assistance in locating resources, he said.
Still, therapy is important for victims, he said.
“Victims need access to therapy to help them deal with the trauma resulting from their victimization,” Spomer wrote, adding it can help victims “learn to process their emotions in a manner that allows them to go about their daily lives.”
Therapy 'out of reach' for many
Getting access to therapy can be “extremely challenging” for crime victims, Sonsthagen Burns said. Studies have shown victims with post-traumatic stress disorder have a greater chance of being unemployed, meaning they are likely uninsured and must pay for services out of pocket, she said.
Those who are insured often have to pay high deductibles before insurance covers therapy, she said.
“It becomes really challenging,” Sonsthagen Burns said when asked how accessible therapy is for crime victims. “We have programs that try to reduce the cost, but even with those programs, sometimes it is just out of reach for people.”
North Dakota has a program that helps victims with medical and mental health treatment. The Crime Victims Compensation program helps victims who have been physically or emotionally injured by a violent crime in North Dakota. It also can be utilized by North Dakotans injured by a terrorist attack in another country, dependents of a homicide victim and those who must pay for the funeral or medical expenses of a homicide victim.
But the qualifications are more stringent than LSS’s, Sonsthagen Burns said. Crimes must be reported within four days, an application must be filled out within a year of reporting the crime and victims must cooperate with authorities.
The LSS grant can apply to a wider range of victims. For example, an adult who was sexually abused as a child could seek help using the grant, Sonsthagen Burns said.
“Our grant also can cover nonreportable crimes or crimes where the victim didn’t feel safe reporting the crime,” she said. “There are multiple reasons why people don’t report, and it doesn’t mean they are not suffering, and it doesn’t mean they are not in need of services.”
Trauma also can impact a victim’s family directly or indirectly, so maybe this grant can help an entire family live a better life, Sonsthagen Burns said.
“What we’re hoping is this grant can go a little ways toward helping with that,” she said.
Sonsthagen Burns said she hopes LSS will continue to get funding so it can continue to provide therapy access to crime victims.
For more information, call Sonsthagen Burns at 701-271-1618 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Victims can be self-referred or referred by a third party, and the intake is fairly simple, she said.