A series of reports that aired recently on Fox 7 caught the attention of a pair of U.S. senators, prompting them to introduce new legislation.
Rebecca Thomas, who anchors the station’s 5 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, introduced viewers to Charles Nelson, a veteran from Leander in need of a kidney transplant.
It’s a story that was personal for Thomas, who donated one of her kidneys to her mom last year.
Nelson’s son, Coty, was a match and ready to donate – but there was a problem. The U.S. Veterans Administration said that, because Nelson’s son wasn’t a veteran, the procedure wouldn’t be covered under its “Choice” program.
Ultimately, Charles had to qualify for Medicare and rely on that program to pay for the life-saving surgery instead.
“When his wife first contacted the station, this sounded like such an injustice,” Thomas said. “Being a living kidney donor, I know what’s involved and how tough it is. This was an undue burden for them.”
Thomas did some digging and found that the VA didn’t appear to be interpreting the rules for the Choice program as lawmakers had intended.
In a statement provided to Fox 7, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said the VA had “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.”
Not long after that, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) introduced the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act, which seeks to clarify the Choice program’s rules.
“Our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation deserve the best possible health care we can give them, but unfortunately, the VA bureaucracy is not doing everything they can to help those who need life-saving transplant procedures,” Sen. Cornyn said. “I thank Sen. Kirk for his leadership on this issue, and I hope we can pass this bill to help veterans in Texas and across the nation cut through the red tape and receive quality, life-changing care.”
The goal, Thomas said, is to keep other veterans from facing similar obstacles.
“The family is very happy a fix is coming down the line,” she said. “Advocacy journalism is wonderful. How many other veterans are there who don’t have someone advocating for them? It’s scary. Being able to expose a wrong and see some action is incredibly gratifying.”
As for Thomas and her mom, they’re both doing well, post-surgery. Thomas was back on air just a couple weeks after the procedure, and her mom is showing no signs of rejecting the donated kidney.
“It’s almost like it never happened,” she said.