Texas veteran helps fix loophole in VA policy that denied coverage to living organ donors

SAN ANTONIO – A Texas veteran who faced an uphill battle seeking help from his living donor through the Veterans Choice Program has led an effort to change the system’s flaw to help others.

In July 2022, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will begin covering the medical costs of living donors for eligible veterans in need of a transplant.

U.S. Army veteran Charles Nelson and his wife, Tamara, are partly to thank for fixing a flaw in the Veterans Choice program.

Nelson had already used this system for his first kidney transplant. She and her living donor had to travel to another state for the procedure.

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In 2016, when Nelson needed a second transplant, he wanted to stay in his community at the Audie Murphy VA and University Health System.

“I just want to cross the road. And it will save a lot of money for the VA system,” Nelson said.

But a few months before the transplant, her living donor, her son, was denied coverage.

“You’re dealing with, you know, VA paperwork, administration, your family, your health dialysis every day. So I was very worried,” said Nelson.

He was able to find a way to be covered by his living donor.

After about a year, his journey began to become a voice for the veterans, and he worked to change the error in this goal.

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“The limits on it have loosened a little or decreased and it has not reached where we want, but it is still improving,” he said.

The Nelsons say the Audie Murphy VA and the University Health Transplant Institute have been a big part of their success in making the transition for some veterans.

Jennifer Milton, chief executive officer of the University Health Transplant Institute, applauds the Nelsons for making a very difficult and personal medical journey public to help save the lives of others.

“The Nelsons are supporters of all veterans — in fact, the entire country owes them a big thank you. And what a celebration we are celebrating this new change. Veterans Day. And the veteran really carried the torch and did that.”

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Milton said the change to cover living donors opens up access and equity in transplants. He says that since the policy change, the VA and the University Health Transplant Institute are already working with living donors and veterans in transplants.

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