This is the last of a three-part series examining government services addressing key challenges among military veterans amid high unemployment, a woeful economic outlook and an anticipated influx of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next few years.

On top of myriad other issues that can hinder military veterans’ path to employment, caring for the sometimes complicated war-related health problems they come home with also serves as a major roadblock.

Army veteran Nick Colgin said he dutifully followed the discharge processes when he returned home from Afghanistan in 2008. But he fell through the cracks of what he found was an ineffective system that he believes delayed his employment longer than necessary.

All of this is complicated by the fact that we are seeing … unprecedented complexity in psychological health disorders. It’s an extraordinary challenge.” – Dr. Andrew Ritcheson

“I didn’t realize the problems that would arise,” said Colgin, 26. “It’s not a good system. I just showed up to check a box.”

“I was depressed… trying to get used to life back home,” he added. “I failed myself. They failed me. We didn’t meet in the middle. It’s the same story with everyone.”

Officials hope new technologies, including veterans’ access to their own health records and increased information sharing among agencies and providers, will help close gaps and delays in care that can contribute to unemployment rates and the difficult transition veterans face when returning home (covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series).

Many believe collaborative health information management (IM) and Information Technology (IT) projects involving data sharing between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) will lead to streamlined services and better care.

George Mahler, Senior Program Manager at CCSi, said a big part of the challenges veterans face when it comes to receiving health care services is maintaining healthcare records. CCSi has teamed up with the DoD and VA to take steps to be more collaborative and provide veterans better services through the modernization of the My HealtheVet (MHV) system. With the new mobile system, patients and healthcare professional can access important healthcare information remotely and securely.

“There’s work being done to help the veterans be as healthy as they can. People with PTSD or PTSI, it’s hard for them to find a job sometimes,” he said, referring to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as Post Traumatic Stress Injury. “The VA is putting tools and practices in place to address that. …. Thirty years ago we didn’t even recognize PTSD. Today they recognize it and try to detect it and treat it.”

CCSi and Mahler specifically work with a number of agencies including the DoD, DHS and VA to create Web 2.0 policies and programs geared towards improving the lives of veterans returning home from war.

“They’re trying to make veterans more healthy and more aware of their care … and putting a lot of effort in trying to monitor these metrics,” Mahler said. “There’s not a single cookie cutter answer, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Dr. Andrew Ritcheson of Dynamic Research Corporation (DRC) has also contracted with federal agencies to help advance outpatient evaluation, advanced diagnostics, treatment planning and initiation and long-term follow-up for active duty patients suffering from TBI. DRC has been working with both military and civilian healthcare agencies for 18 years to provide clinical expertise and IT solutions to ensure quality care.

Ritcheson said integrated records and information sharing will help to advance care, but will still be a challenge given the upcoming draw-down of troops and the health issues they’re facing.

“All of this is complicated by the fact that we are seeing … unprecedented complexity in psychological health disorders,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary challenge. VA…has an enormous responsibility for caring for diseases and disorders that we don’t fully understand. What is known is there’s a steady cluster of disorders causing radically diminished quality of life. We are having to evolve and innovate and bring about new treatment modalities. It’s doable but it’s a challenge.”