For the past couple of weeks, FOX 7 Austin has been following the story of Charles Nelson, a disabled, Leander veteran who needed a kidney transplant. His 28-year-old son Coty Nelson was a match and a willing donor.
Initially, the VA told them the "Choice Program" would pay for the surgery at University Hospital in San Antonio because Charles Nelson lives more than 40 miles from a VA transplant center. Then, about a month ago, the VA told him the "Choice Program" would not cover the surgery because the donor isn't a veteran.
So, Nelson ended up going through Medicare.
On June 8, after weeks of FOX 7 asking the VA to clarify the "Choice Program" policy on paying for living kidney donor transplants, they finally responded.
In an email, the VA said it would not pay for Nelson's surgery because, "To be eligible for Choice a person must be an enrolled veteran." Again, Charles Nelson is an enrolled veteran, his son is not.
The VA sent me a link to the "Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014." Nowhere in that bill does it say anything about denying coverage for a living kidney donor transplant, if the donor isn't a veteran.
On June 9, FOX 7 contacted the "House Committee on Veterans' Affairs" in Washington, D.C., the committee that wrote the bill. U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, who serves at the Chairman of the "House Committee on Veterans' Affairs" said what the VA did was wrong.
He sent us the following statement:
"It seems as if VA has created a technicality that doesn't exist, as basic common sense dictates that in cases of transplants, the donor's medical care is an essential part of the procedure. That's why we have brought this issue to the attention of officials at VA headquarters in Washington with a request for them to clarify this policy and make the veteran whole as soon as possible. The Choice Program was created for the express purpose of expanding medical care access for veterans in need. Attempts to use the program as an excuse to deny veterans care are wrong and contrary to the spirit of the law."
Count on FOX 7 to stay on top of this story and let you know how the VA responds to this directive about the "Choice Program."
There's more good news to report.
The Nelson's transplant surgery began late Thursday morning and wrapped up in the afternoon.
Charles Nelson's wife Tamara sent FOX 7 some pictures right before father and son were wheeled off into their operating rooms. She said, the surgery went well and both men are in "good spirits."