Vietnam vet forced to pay for kidney transplant after VA turns him down

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A 73-year-old Hall County Vietnam veteran realized without a new kidney he did not have long to live.

But it's the struggle to get that transplant covered by the Veterans Administration that caught the interest of the FOX 5 I-Team.

Retired Army sergeant Obie Moore doesn't talk a lot about his war record. But a wall in his bedroom speaks loudly. That's where you can find his two Purple Hearts, his Bronze Star, and evidence of a 1967 battle with the North Vietnamese that left Moore with four gun shot wounds, including serious hits to his stomach and foot. He would spend five months in Japan recovering in a military hospital before coming home.

But the worst of the war wounds came later. And he knows why.

"Oh yeah," Moore remembered. "I slept in Agent Orange all the time."

The cancer-causing herbicide is blamed for leaving thousands of Vietnam veterans with life-long medical issues. In his 50s, Moore found himself on dialysis. In 2015 he landed on the VA's transplant list for a new kidney. The surgery would be covered 100 percent.

While on the list, Moore needed a stent put in his heart for a previous bypass. The VA removed him from the transplant list, but according to the complaint he would later file with his congressman, Moore said the VA promised to put him back on the list once he had been off blood thinner for a year and passed a stress test.

He says he did that, but instead of a kidney, Moore got this letter from the VA saying he was no longer a candidate for the waitlist.

“You were rejected because of heart issues," he remembers the letter saying. "Well, what heart? Nothing's changed.”

The VA has fully paid for organ transplants since 1962. But in Moore's case, VA surgeons would not budge. So Moore took the same records the VA reviewed and brought them to Piedmont Hospital, a well known transplant center with one of the highest success rates in the country. Their surgeons decided Moore was a suitable candidate. In July, he received a new kidney from a living donor.

Medicare is paying 80 percent of the transplant bills. Moore is now responsible for the rest.

“Based on what they tell us, somewhere around 50,000 dollars potentially.” Moore pointed out.

The VA proudly promotes its transplant services, but more veterans like Obie Moore complain they can't get help. In January, the US Office of Special Counsel launched an investigation, finding that transplant centers determined “patients unsuitable based on their minimal coronary artery disease and declined them for transplant.... in an overly restrictive manner.”  

Just like Moore says happened to him.

But the VA insists its transplant policy is sound. In a written statement to the FOX 5 I-Team, the VA stressed that it makes "independent decisions regarding the eligibility of any individual candidate" based on accepted National Organ transplant policy.

Why won't the VA pay the remaining 20 percent cost since a private hospital decided Moore was a good candidate?

"We referred the patient to the transplant program, which is our normal process," the VA wrote. "The patient elected to see a provider of his own choice due to his disagreement."

Yet no one can explain how a private hospital said yes when the VA said no.

It's been three months now since Moore got his life back. He can eat anything he wants, even his beloved cheese. But there's still something he can't get.

“I just want them to pay the difference and the donor's bills because I don't have that kind of money laying around to do that."