TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Ever since a stroke stole Mike Duplisea’s ability to walk and talk, the Army combat veteran has been forced tell his story with only three words, and a lot of frustration.
No one seemed to be listening.
But the VA finally contacted Duplisea within days of 8 On Your Side reporting his claim that the stroke and several other medical issues are connected to his service that included exposure to burn pits.
“Yes,” he said when asked if he could feel the heat and smell the smoke from the burning, toxic garbage.
Duplisea was “very excited” when he heard from the VA, according to his brother-in-law Jason Bucy.
“So, when I went back to give him the news, I got fist bumps and yeah, yeah, yeahs,” Bucy said. “[The news story] put a lot of pressure on them.”
Bucy, also a combat veteran, had to use yes and no questions to collect the details necessary for Duplisea’s disability claim that was filed nearly two years ago.
Bucy compared the process to a difficult game of charades.
An email to 8 On Your Side from Veterans Benefits Administration Management Analyst Bruce Clisby revealed something Bucy said was unknown to Duplisea.
According to Clisby, the “VA completed a rating decision denying all 11 claims” made by Duplisea about four months after the paperwork was filed.
Bucy said Duplisea was never told his claim was denied.
“We asked the facility that he was in if he’d received any letters. He had not received any letters,” Bucy said. “So, we were very shocked about that, especially since he’d never been seen.”
He will be seen now, starting Monday with an appointment at James Haley VA Medical Center, but Bucy said Duplisea is nervous about communicating with the doctors.
“He’s trying to navigate this while only being able to speak three words. It hurts him because he wants to be able to communicate and it’s very frustrating,” Bucy said. “The third word will come out because he’s so frustrated.”
That third word is an expletive that Bucy said comes out when Duplisea has trouble getting a point across.
Bucy said Medicaid cuts have stalled therapy for Duplisea. His family hopes the disability claim will be approved and the medical help Duplisea needs will be restored through the VA.
“We have an obligation to all of our veterans, especially the ones who can’t help themselves,” Bucy said. “I do not understand why the red tape, the bureaucracy, the denials happen. The veterans are constantly fighting for what they deserve.”
Duplisea’s claim was filed about a year before the Pact Act was passed to expand coverage for toxic exposure. Bucy said he is optimistic the new law will work in Duplisea’s favor.