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Local Anchor Takes On VA Over Refusal To Cover Veteran’s Kidney Transplant

Rebecca Thomas is the evening anchor for Fox 7 News in Austin, Texas. Last year, when her mother needed a kidney, Thomas stepped up with the donation.

Recently, she found out about a local veteran named Charles Nelson whose son, Coty, was trying to do for his dad what Thomas herself did for her own parent last year. Unfortunately, because Nelson’s son isn’t a veteran, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs denied the family their care.

In the words of his wife Tamara Nelson, “It’s kind of like they get to choose whether you live and die.”

Thomas wasn’t pleased to hear about how hard it was for Nelson to obtain his kidney.

She decided to use her platform for good. First, after hearing from national VA leadership and being shown the law they used as the basis to deny Nelson coverage, she reached out to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and got the following response from its chairman, Congressman Jeff Miller:

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.

The response from Miller was heartening, sure, but Nelson didn’t have time to wait. He went ahead with his surgery, using Medicare instead of the VA care he is entitled to. Now, Fox 7 plans to do follow-ups so that the VA will reimburse Nelson for the surgery and care he had to seek elsewhere.

Mediaite reached out to Thomas, who reported that there have not been any other major developments in the story since Miller’s response was broadcast during the evening news last night.

“I don’t know what’s happening right now,” Thomas said, “but Representative Miller has told them, ‘Get this fixed.’ Obviously, we are going to follow this and make sure that that statement is put into place.

She mentioned that another family in Texas reached out recently to share that they had been put in a similar situation because of the Choice Program. Though they do not live in the Fox 7 market, Thomas explained that if clarification isn’t made on how living donors are handled under the program and the VA “starts talking in circles again,” the news team will take a trip to see the other family, as well.

As for the station’s plans to keep revisiting the story, Thomas says they “absolutely” will be until they see real action taken. Watch above to see her put the VA’s handling of Nelson’s case on blast during a broadcast and promise not to let the story go.

[image via screengrab]

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