The Strange Case of Vitamin D

It was quite by accident that I, as my son’s caregiver, discovered a dilemma faced by many veterans.

Back in 2013, I was working and caregiving non-stop. This was not wise, and I became painfully aware of the impact one day as I was on my way to make a presentation. To get to my location, I had to take a shuttle. When it came time to step up into the shuttle, I simply could barely move. I braced myself by holding the rails but felt a pervasive weakness that required every ounce of energy to stand upright. After my presentation and flight home, I knew that I must see my doctor.

Through a series of tests, we found that my Vitamin D was alarmingly low. I was prescribed mega doses and follow up blood work indicated I was finally back to a normal range. Along with that and some extremely mindful rest, I began to regain energy.

Balanced vitamins and minerals are essential for overall well-being.  When one or more are out of alignment, especially over a long period of time, it can create problems.  Some studies suggest that prolonged low Vitamin D is often correlated with low energy and depression, to name a few.  It made sense to me based on my experience.

So, when we re-engaged with the VA in 2016 for my veteran son’s health care,  I requested that he have his Vitamin D tested. By that time, he had spent 11 years nearly immobilized in his dark bedroom in our home.

Sure enough, it was lower than mine was when I was tested. So, I requested a prescription for the mega doses, like I had received years earlier, to help get him normalized.

“Not possible”, said his doctor. But they could send him small doses. “Why?”, I asked. I did not receive a clear answer.  I could only surmise that it was not on the approved VA medication list or that the VA doctor did not want to go through the paperwork to get it approved.

So, they sent the small doses like you can buy over the counter at the corner drug store, which didn’t make a dent in his blood levels, as his annual blood work continued to reveal.

After years of this, I contacted a private physician who ran the same blood tests. My son’s level was so low, that he was prescribed 12 weeks of mega doses (the same doses that I had been prescribed for 6 weeks when my own Vitamin D was low) which told me a lot.

After his 12 week treatment, he was re-tested by the private physician and his levels were in the normal range.  It was only then that he was advised to take the small daily doses he had been sent by the VA, which was for maintenance. I recently learned that low Vitamin D can be related to tooth decay.  This made sense too since by the age of 37, my son had lost all but a few of his once-perfect teeth.

And here is what I also learned. Even if a veteran can be helped by a medication, if it’s not on the approved list or too much effort to obtain, you may be out of luck.  This caused us to begin determining which doctor to go to that could really treat the problem and not just identify it. VA medical would be chosen for slow and minimal intervention and private civilian care for timely, assertive, and targeted help.

Now the VA process is confusing enough, but having to decide who to go to for the best help seems counterproductive at best. And it was not just us and the Vitamin D. Over and over, I read of a variety of medical cases that could not or would not be treated by the VA either in a timely or aggressive or non-generic manner.

I’m thankful that our situation wasn’t life threatening and that we had access to private care. Because of our strange case, I began to wonder how many veterans were being denied meaningful intervention.

And on this 81st day of remembrance of Pearl Harbor, I am reminded that our military and veterans should be dignified with nothing less than the best.  Based on our experience, there is a lot of room for change.

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