Leander veteran has kidney transplant Thursday morning; still fighting for VA to pay

Charles Nelson, a disabled Leander veteran, and his wife have been fighting the VA for weeks in order to get them to pay for Charles's kidney transplant. His son, Coty Nelson, is the living donor.

"It's a selfless act that he's doing for me," said Charles about his 28-year-old son. "For someone to give you the opportunity for your health and give your life back to you is just - I can't thank him enough for it."

Doctors at University Hospital in San Antonio will remove one of Coty's kidneys on Thursday morning and transplant it into his 48-year-old father.

"It's my dad," Coty explained. "I would do anything for him. He's always been there for me. Mind as well return the favor."

Charles is a 100-percent service-connected disabled, Army veteran.

An untreated strep infection, while he was stationed in South Korea, caused severe kidney disease.

Because Charles lives more than 40 miles from the nearest VA transplant center, he was initially told the VA's Choice Program would pay for the surgery at University Hospital. Then, he said the offer was pulled because his donor isn't a veteran.

"There are things in the VA that are just - you can't believe that they would even write that into the law," said Charles. "That is so frustrating."

Coty said this is classic example of the VA not putting veterans first.

"He met all of the criteria and everything like that," Coty explained. "And then - oh wait. Hold on.There's a deal - we need to figure out how we can make this not work right for them (Nelsons) - but, right for us (VA). Well, son's not a veteran. Perfect. It's not covered anymore."

After FOX 7 Austin first aired the story, about the Nelsons' fight with the VA, two weeks ago - Charles's wife Tamara said they've gotten a lot of talk, but no action.

“I've had a few phone calls from the VA," said Tamara. "And, every phone call has been,'Mrs. Nelson what can we do? We will take care of you.' I say, 'Can you send that to me by documentation?' Well, it'll be a couple of days. Never did receive anything - still to this day."

The Nelsons are now going through Medicare to pay for the transplant surgery. But, their fight to help other veterans is just getting started.

"When the VA tells you no, this is the policy and this is what they're doing, then that's just kind of what they (veterans) go with," said Charles. "They don't fight the system. And, it's hard to try to work your way up into the VA to get somebody to listen to you."

Tamara adds, "Now our main concern is directed back to the Choice Program and how can we help other veterans - so they don't have to go through the same issues and the same problems that we've been going through."

After numerous requests to the VA, about its Choice Program policy on living kidney donor transplants, the VA finally responded to FOX 7 Austin on Wednesday evening.

In an email, the VA said it will not be covering the Nelsons' surgery, because, “To be eligible for Choice a person must be an enrolled veteran.”

Again, Charles is a veteran - his son is not.

Since our last story aired, the offices of both Texas Senator John Cornyn and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk have contacted FOX 7 - about helping the Nelsons.


FOX 7 Austin will continue to update you on this developing story.