FRANKFORT, Ky. — Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott testified about initiatives to help Kentucky veterans gain better access to legal and other services July 12 at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort. He appeared before the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.
Justice Scott, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran, was named by Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. in 2010 to head the Veterans Task Force as part of the work of the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission. The Veterans Task Force is working to improve the court system’s ability to identify veterans in need; to connect those veterans with appropriate services, programs and treatment; and to create new programs to help veterans involved in the justice system, such as the first Veterans Treatment Court in Kentucky. The task force is composed of leaders from all levels of state government as well as other stakeholders involved with veterans’ issues.
“By coordinating efforts and resources among various agencies, the Veterans Task Force hopes to create a comprehensive effort to help new veterans reintegrate into society and assist those who may have previously fallen through the cracks,” Justice Scott said.
The Veterans Task Force is focusing on the areas of awareness, education, information sharing and courts designed for veterans.
The veteran population in Kentucky - already estimated at more than 350,000 - is expected to significantly increase now that the wars are ending in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, with the high incidents of brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many veterans will need treatment, counseling and other social services to help them transition into civilian life.
The task force wants to enhance awareness of who is a veteran by improving how veterans are identified when they come into contact with the justice system. Determining who is a veteran is critical to proving assistance. By intervening at an early stage in a veteran’s experience with the justice system, veterans can more quickly obtain services that can reduce criminal recidivism and the rates of homelessness and suicide.
The task force is exploring several ways to increase awareness, including changes that would let veterans indicate their status on civil and criminal legal forms, driver licenses, the Kentucky State Police uniform citation form and identification cards for parolees.
The task force also wants to improve how veterans are connected with the appropriate services, programs and treatment. In many cases, judges and veterans’ advocates may not be aware of resources, such as funds to help veterans avoid eviction or get reliable transportation to work.
This initiative would train judges and veterans’ advocates on how to access services available for veterans. The training curriculum would cover a broad range of legal issues that affect veterans, such as divorce and other family law matters, housing, consumer matters, probate, wills, guardianship and bankruptcy. The training would also include education on areas unique to veterans, such as how to navigate the complex structure of benefits available to those who have served in the military.
In addition, the Kentucky Bar Association has changed its membership questionnaire to identify attorneys who are veterans. This information will be used to establish Veteran Lawyers Pro Bono Assistance Committees in every Kentucky county. The veteran attorneys can volunteer to assist the various legal aid societies that provide civil legal aid to veterans. To date, the KBA has identified more than 1,100 Kentucky attorneys who are veterans.