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Incarcerated Veterans Help Other Incarcerated Vets Obtain Disability Benefits

by Mike Brodheim

Ed Munis and Michael “Doc” Piper, two Vietnam vets incarcerated at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad, California, have quietly been working over the past six years to ensure that other imprisoned veterans, now numbering roughly 200,000 in the United States, receive the disability benefits to which they are entitled.

To date, Munis and Piper have helped collect more than $5 million in disability benefits, with the bulk of those funds going to the dependents of incarcerated veterans.

Between the bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and their disabilities, veterans often remain unaware of their entitlement to benefits; others don’t know how to navigate the paperwork. That’s the need that Piper and Munis identified and have been attempting to address.

They managed to win enough support from prison staff to set up a small office at CTF to assist other imprisoned veterans; it is, apparently, the only office of its kind in the nation. According to Munis, they use the Freedom of Information Act to research and file claims on behalf of veterans in prisons in 17 states, and hope to expand their services in the future.

For Munis and Piper, serving a life term and 74 years, respectively, donating their services in this manner is a way to give back to the veteran community. “The reaction has been overwhelming,” said Munis. “For them to break down in tears saying no one’s ever offered to do this for me before is a reward in itself.”

The two men now also assist veterans who are preparing for parole or facing the parole board. They were also instrumental in bringing the Wall that Heals, a traveling half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to CTF in June 2011. The Wall that Heals had never before been displayed on prison grounds.

Munis and Piper are accredited by the Monterey County Military & Veterans Affairs Office to represent approximately 17,000 incarcerated veterans in California.


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