Central Texas veteran inspires change in VA organ transplant policy
Two years after Army veteran Charles Nelson received his kidney transplant from his son, a change to a policy under the United States Department of Veterans Affairs that could have helped him through the process will be signed into law this week.
Nelson had learned his son was a match in 2016. This would be his second kidney transplant. The first one happened more than a decade ago and required extensive traveling to a VA facility in Nashville and time away.
“We didn’t want to travel and have to go to Nashville, take family and stay there,” he said.
He tried to obtain coverage through the Veterans Choice Program to get the transplant from a community provider rather than having to travel to a VA facility or wait, but his family ran into an issue they didn’t expect.
“We were denied because our son was not a veteran,” wife Tamara Nelson said.
Then came the long battle with the VA.
“We went through about eight to nine months of fighting with the VA to go back and forth for them to cover it or not through the Choice program,” she said. “My husband became very sick.”
The community they lived in within Central Texas donated around $10,000 to help with medical expenses, but Nelson ended up using Medicare and paying out of pocket as well.
“We also had to empty our checking, our savings and our hospital – the university hospital donated their facilities instead of us having to pay for the hospital,” Tamara said.
The Nelsons inspired Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, to come up with a proposal called the “Veterans Transplant Coverage Act” back in 2017. The language was added into a larger bill called the VA Mission Act, which cleared the Senate late May.
“When I heard this story, I thought that was crazy,” Carter said. “I don’t know a whole lot about transplants, but I know enough to know that if you can get one from somebody that is directly related to you, you will have a whole lot better chance of survival.”
This policy change would prevent the VA from denying medical coverage in situations like the one Nelson had. It would cover organ transplants for veterans from non-veterans.
Carter said funding for these medical procedures will come through the appropriations process.
“This population that has this issue may be about seven percent of our population, but it’s almost impossible to find a match even under that percentage,” he said.
VA officials commended the efforts by the Nelson family and Carter’s office to change the policy.
“What’s important to me is that you all saw this through,” Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTVHCS) Director Christopher Sandles said.
Sandles encouraged more people to speak up about any concerns they face when trying to administer or receive care.
“What we need are more folks, whether they be staff or veterans, that when something isn’t right, even if they themselves aren’t going to benefit from the change, that they see these things through to be certain that legislative changes process changes are put into place so that those that come after them don’t deal with the same obstacles.”
Update: June 6, 2018-This bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump.
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