Kentucky Court of Justice
Justice Will T. Scott testifies about plans to help Kentucky veterans gain better access to legal and other services
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.
The task force is also working to improve the ability to share information about a veteran’s status with the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense and other agencies that can provide assistance.
Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court
The Veterans Task Force has endorsed the work of the Administrative Office of the Courts to implement the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court in conjunction with the Robley Rex Veterans Administration Medical Center, Jefferson County Drug Court, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office and others. This pilot project will be the first of its kind in Kentucky and will address the needs of veterans with mental health and substance abuse issues who enter the criminal justice system. The project has widespread support from all three branches of state government and representatives from the justice system, treatment providers and the community. The JCVTC will be implemented in October 2012 if federal grant funding is approved. The program is expected to serve 25 to 30 veterans per year.
About Justice Scott
Justice Scott was elected in 2004 to represent the 7th Supreme Court District,* which consists of 22 counties in Eastern Kentucky. He served as deputy chief justice of the Supreme Court from 2006 to 2010. He was a circuit Judge from 1984 to 1988 and was elected second vice president of the Kentucky Circuit Judges Association in 1986. Before serving the judiciary, he practiced law as a trial attorney from 1975 to 1980 and was an assistant commonwealth's attorney for Pike County from 1981 to 1982.
Justice Scott was born in Pike County and attended Eastern Kentucky University for one year before volunteering for service in the U.S. Army. Enlisting as a private in 1966, he finished his tour of duty in 1969 in Vietnam as a first lieutenant. During his service, he was awarded his Airborne wings, the Bronze Star, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, among others. After completing his military service, he graduated with a bachelor's degree from Pikeville College and then earned a juris doctor in 1974 and a master’s degree in taxation in 1975 from the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
*The 7th Supreme Court District consists of Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Elliott, Floyd, Greenup, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Lawrence, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Rowan and Wolfe counties.
About the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission
Under the leadership of Chief Justice Minton, the Supreme Court of Kentucky formed the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission in 2010 to identify the most pressing legal needs of those unable to afford lawyers and create a statewide plan to address those needs. Kentucky is one of nearly two dozen states where supreme courts have formed Access to Justice Commissions. Each year, civil legal aid programs in Kentucky help about 68,000 low-income families and children who have nowhere else to turn. About half of those eligible for civil legal aid are turned away because there aren’t enough resources, a situation made worse by recent state budget cuts.