By Tommy Bryant
Journalism Guild Writer
The Veteran Service Office at Correctional Training Facility in Soledad is assisting incarcerated vets in obtaining benefits.
Ed Munis had worked as a lobbyist for veterans’ issues in Sacramento before his incarceration. He was recruited by originator inmate Michael “Doc” Piper. With the warden’s approval, they started the Veteran Affairs Office 10 years ago.
Inmate Jerry Lytle recalled, “In 2004, I met up with another veteran who was getting benefits, and he said, ‘You know you should get your benefits. You’re entitled to them.’”
Filing for the disability benefits never seemed to get anywhere, reported Krista Almanzan on radio station KAZU in an NPR series titled “Back at Base.”
Lytle reflects, “I think because I was in prison, I couldn’t deal directly with them. I was dealing with them through the mail, the only process I had.”
Lytle eventually transferred to CTF Salinas Valley. This is where he heard about the Veteran Service Office.
The office assisted Lytle in obtaining his disability compensation. He was entitled to $1,000 a month for exposure to Agent Orange and also suffered from PTSD after serving in Vietnam.
Due to his current incarceration, Lytle can only receive 10 percent of that amount or about $100 per month.
Similar offices assist incarcerated vets in 23 other states and all California prisons via mail, Almanzan reported.
The office has helped about 1,000 incarcerated veterans and their dependants receive over $15 million in benefits for the past 10 years.
The Monterey County Veteran Service Officers assist the prison office in submitting paperwork after reviewing claims.
“And plus we can access and check status on appeals on the outside,” says George Dixon of the Monterey County office, adding that they are here to assist all veterans, not to judge them.
“An awful lot of people that are in the VA … that are not too excited about helping out convicted felons, so that’s been a struggle,” acknowledged Munis. “So far, we’ve prevailed.”
“I plan on paroling … continuing to do this until … they bury me,” says inmate Munis.
“Back at Base” is part of a series broadcasting on seven NPR radio stations throughout the country.