New grant helps offset Abound therapy costs for victims of crime in North Dakota

It just got a lot easier for victims of crime in North Dakota to get mental-health help, thanks to a Victims of Crime Act grant awarded to Lutheran Social Services through the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


LSS received $25,000 to help cover therapy fees and associated expenses for victims who seek help at Abound Counseling at the statewide social-service agency. We are one of 46 victim-service nonprofits and government-run county operations in the state to receive $4.6 million in funds from the Department of Justice to help crime victims. The grant is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, according to the DOJ's Office for Victims of Crime.

The VOCA grant defines anyone who might qualify for the therapy funding as those who have experienced:

• Physical harm,

• Bullying or harassment (face-to-face and electronic),

• Child abuse,

• Community violence,

• Domestic violence,

• Neglect (either child or vulnerable/elderly adults),

• Persecution due to factors like race and sexual orientation,

• Property crimes,

• Sexual assault,

• Torture or other crimes against humanity.

Targets of serious victimization often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which, unless diagnosed and treated, can affect every aspect of their lives – including physical health, vulnerability to addiction, school success, employment, interpersonal relationships, socio-economic status, criminal history, parenting success and life span.

In addition to the incalculable toll in terms of human suffering, these conditions can place an enormous financial burden on communities in the long run.

Besides offsetting therapy costs, the grant can help cover costs such as Imagine Thriving Skills Coaches to work one-on-one with clients to help them strengthen functions affected by past trauma or mental illness. Funds also are available to pay for interpreter services for non-English-speaking clients.

'It's going to open a lot of doors, I hope, for people.' – Terri Sonsthagen Burns, VOCA intake coordinator at Abound.

Although North Dakota already has a Crime Victims Compensation Program (CVCP) in place for victims physically or emotionally injured by a violent crime, the CVCP criteria for qualifying is more stringent. For instance, claim for compensation must be filed within a year after the event and the crime must be reported to law enforcement within four days after the incident.

These restrictions do not apply for VOCA; in fact, the event could have been something that happened years ago and was never reported to police. The qualifying factor is that it caused some sort of long-range damage that affects the person's daily functioning.

People can be self-referred or referred by a third party (i.e. social worker) for the VOCA program. An Abound mental-health provider will conduct an initial assessment to determine if therapy is warranted. The intake process is fairly simple, as the aim is to make it easier for victims to seek help, says Terri Sonsthagen Burns, VOCA intake coordinator at Abound Counseling.

If approved for coverage, the VOCA grant will pay for any remaining costs after the client’s primary insurance coverage has been depleted. The grant may also help the uninsured or underinsured.

Once enrolled, rural residents can receive face-to-face counseling at an Abound office near them or use Abound’s telehealth option. The telehealth system allows guests to use a HIPAA-compliant video connection to interact with a counselor via home computer, laptop or mobile phone, regardless of where they live.

To learn more, please call (701) 271-1618 or email Terri at terrib@lssnd.org.

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