Bill to reform VA organ transplant process advances

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A Leander, Texas family's fight to get their loved one life-saving care could help other veterans caught up in red tape.

Charles Nelson's family is on a mission to change the VA's organ surgery process.

Nelson needed a kidney -- but because his donor didn't also serve -- the family paid a steep price.

A year and a half after life-saving kidney surgery -- Army veteran Charles Nelson is recovered, but he says the Veterans Affairs system needs healing.

"When I tell someone the reason that I wasn't approved, they're dumbfounded," said Nelson.

Nelson's son, Coty, volunteered his kidney for the transplant. The family expected the VA to cover the procedure and do it locally, but that didn't happen.

“Furious. It didn’t make any sense," said Charles' wife, Tamara Nelson. "It was a total roller coaster. They kept approving us and then not approving us.”

Tamara says the VA told them it couldn't cover the procedure because their son isn't a fellow veteran. That left the Nelsons raising cash on their own - at their church and through a San Antonio hospital.

"Everybody agreed that was the dumbest policy they ever heard of," said Rep. John Carter.

Texas Congressman John Carter represents the 31st district, which includes Leander.

His proposal to re-write VA policy recently passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate.

"This is a life-saving bill," said Carter, who notes there are 84,000 veterans in his congressional district, and the 22 million nationwide.

The measure would scrap the need for an organ donor to be a veteran too in order for the VA to cover surgery costs in every instance. The bill also aims to allow procedures to be done closer to home.

"Many people have to go all the way to the West Coast or all the way to the East Coast to have a transplant," said Carter.

This bill saw strong bipartisan support in the House and passed there last month. It's now on track to be taken up by the Senate Veterans Affairs committee.

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