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

SAN ANTONIO – A Texas veteran who faced an uphill when looking for coverage for his living donor through the Veterans Choice Program led the effort to change a system flaw to help others.

In July 2022, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would begin covering the medical costs for living donors to qualifying veterans who need transplants.

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

Nelson had already used the program for his first kidney transplant. He and his living donor had to travel to another state for the procedure.

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

“I just want to go across the street. And it would save a lot of money for the VA system as well,” Nelson said.

But a couple of months before the transplant, the coverage for his living donor, his son, was denied.

“You’re dealing with, you know, the VA paperwork, the bureaucracy, your family, your health dialysis every other day. So it was extremely frustrating,” Nelson said.

He was able to find the means to have his living donor covered.

After about a year, his journey started to become a voice for veterans, and he worked to change the flaw in the policy.

“The restrictions on it loosened up a little bit or eased up and not completely to where we want it, but it is still making progress,” he said.

The Nelsons said the Audie Murphy VA and University Health Transplant Institute were a big part of their success in making the change for other veterans.

Jennifer Milton, chief administrative officer of the University Health Transplant Institute, applauds the Nelsons for making a very difficult and private health journey public to help save others’ lives.

“The Nelsons being advocates for all veterans — really, the whole country owes them a great debt of gratitude. And what a celebration that we’re celebrating this new change. It’s Veterans Day. And a veteran really carried the torch and made it happen.”

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

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