Veterans Care Today: Magnus Johnson Of Mission 22 On How The US Has Improved Its Care For Veterans Over The Past Five Years
An Interview With Eric Pines
Even if your work is life and death for someone, don’t forget to spend time with your family. I worked harder on Mission 22 than I did my family, I regret it and it almost cost my family everything.
The daily headlines remind us of how countries around the world care or do not care for their military service members. How does the United States hold up with regard to how it cares for its veterans? We know in the past questions have been raised about the VA system, but it seems that a corner has been turned and veterans’ care has improved. How exactly has the VA system been improved? How does the US care for veterans compared to other comparable countries? What exciting new technological or methodological innovations are being used to improve veterans’ health outcomes? To address these questions, we are talking to successful physicians, healthcare workers, veterans, or other VA employees and officials who can share stories and insights from their experience about the state of veterans’ care today and how the US has improved its care for veterans over the last five years.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview Magnus Jognson — CHIEF VISION OFFICER — CO FOUNDER.
Magnus Johnson is a former Green Beret who served for 36 months in combat. He is an adventurer, a family man, a writer, and an artist. His team has inspired thousands to take up the cause, and he has orchestrated the completion of an immense steel-plate monument in remembrance of veterans who have taken their own lives.
Magnus has been awarded a Bronze Star Medal for Exceptionally Meritorious Service in Combat, and a Congressional Record in the Indiana House of Representatives for Service to Country and Community. Magnus’s sights are set on adding value to team projects and being part of solutions to complex human issues.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
I fought in Afghanistan as a Special forces soldier and as a Combat Engineer in Iraq. When I got out of the Army after three tours and eight years of service, I felt like I just woke up and didn’t know where I was. I learned that the veteran suicide rate was 22 a day, according to the Veterans Administration in 2012. I knew I had to do something about this statistic, so I created Mission 22, initially as a public arts organization. We quickly realized we could do so much more based on the support we originally received. I grew up working blue-collar jobs like welding, construction, and concrete. My time in the military was added to that experience. I did not know how to fundraise or speak publicly, but I did know how to build. My background as a special forces soldier is why I wanted to make a difference in the high rates of veteran suicide. Since 2012, I have created a national charity (Mission22), obtained a bachelor’s in behavior science, built programs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) (patent pending), and am finishing up a master’s in human services counseling.
Can you share the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I will not say Mission 22 is solely responsible for bringing national attention to the alarming veteran suicide rates. However, we are a part of that story. It has been my life’s greatest achievement to be one of the many people that brought the issue of veteran’s suicide to the level of national awareness. I remember being a passenger on a long car drive in Washington state, feeling depressed because I felt like Mission 22 was not making a big enough impact. Then all of a sudden, the driver said, “Hey, Magnus, look at that car”! On the window, there was a Mission 22 sticker. At that moment, I knew making a difference for veterans would be possible. That was the first time I saw a Mission 22 logo outside our events or locations. It was a stranger on a highway. That moment was perfect timing to motivate me to continue our mission to end veteran suicide.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be that Change you wish to see in the world”- Mahatma Gandhi
I had just gotten out of the Army, and I was driving to a park because I felt like walking. I had been ruminating after a service member friend had taken his own life. I was resentful, bitter, and angry. I remember thinking that my service was not worth my sacrifices. I was thinking about the suicide rate and feeling hopeless about making a difference. When I pulled into the park parking lot, I saw a hand-painted quote that Gandhi gets credit for (even though it is debated). I thought to myself, and nothing will change for me or those I know if I do nothing. I can’t blame anyone for anything anymore. I am a fully grown man who must take a stand and create the world I want. I was deeply inspired at that moment, and it was a contributing experience that led me to found Mission 22.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The program I created, Recovery & Resiliency (R+R), is gaining traction with the veteran community. Our initial internal research shows that veterans’ symptoms of PTS are being reduced by almost 50 percent. Now that research is done by us and needs to be done by an outside agency. However, the results are promising, and I look forward to saying that according to peer-reviewed scientific research, the R+R program can help a veteran go from severe PTS to subclinical. Part of our program involves what I call post-traumatic growth facilitators (PTGF). These are couches that support veterans as they go through the R+R program. We don’t provide clinical counseling for veterans, even though we will soon have a therapist on staff. We provide growth coaching. I hope to get this aspect of our program certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) in the future. I think that trauma-informed coaching is going to make a significant impact on mental health in our country soon. Not everyone needs therapy, but everyone can benefit from a life coach. We are not against clinical treatment; we just see a way to serve veterans in a new and exciting way.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Based on your experience, can you please share three recent improvements to veterans care that you are really pleased about?
The main thing I am excited about when it comes to veteran care is the veterans’ attitude. No one talked about PTS or moral injury when I was in the Army. Later, PTS was all I heard veterans talking about. Many of them, including myself, were very pessimistic about the lack of support we were receiving. The conversation went from silence to almost never-ending complaining without offering solutions. Currently, I see veterans getting excited about post-traumatic growth. There is a new “seeker” type of attitude among many veterans now. They are looking for new and interesting ways to integrate their trauma and to make it a part of their life’s story, not the story. A balance has been achieved, PTS is not a secret but the discussions are about solutions.
Secondly, I see a promising future with psilocybin and other drugs, such as ketamine, to help treat depression and anxiety. These drugs show promising advances for mental health support if they are appropriately used, coinciding with therapy.
Third, people are finally discussing food, lifestyle, and habits to reduce PTS symptoms. For example, many veterans who struggle with PTS have deficient testosterone because of chronic stress and inflammation. If they start weightlifting and intentionally eating to reduce inflammation, they can see progress. There is no “one size fits all” medical intervention for PTS. In my experience, the only way to fully recover from trauma is to change everything: how we think, what we eat, how we sleep, the drugs we take, and our relationships.
In contrast, can you highlight three areas of veterans care that still need improvement? What would you suggest needs to be done to address those challenges?
Stop looking for someone else to “fix” the problem. A vast array of veteran charities and organizations are implementing new solutions to PTS. Some are amazing, like the Stellate Ganglion Block or the Group therapy design of Save a Warrior. That is not the end of the story. A total lifestyle change is necessary. So, the first thing I would improve is the notion that one intervention will “cure” PTS. It most likely will not be accurate.
Secondly, I hate to say it, but the VA needs to work harder on customer service. The VA has been good to me personally. Many other veterans have had bad experiences. What I can tell the VA is to train everyone on your staff to be polite, kind, and patient. Just because I have a social security number does not mean that it is my name. I know they have a heavy workload, and some veterans can be challenging to support, but it is within the VA’s power to hire and maintain a professional staff that is not burned out and irritated.
Third, we rely too much on therapy. I love people that work in mental health. Most want to make a difference in people’s lives, and they do. However, there are some flaws. For example, many men don’t respond well to therapeutic models, and usually, the men get blamed for this failure. Perhaps the model needs to be changed. The experts need to adjust to the reality of what is. If men are not responding to the therapy used, it may be because the therapist is lacking, not the client. Culturally there is a massive gap between a combat veteran and a highly educated mental health provider. I think that gap needs to be bridged more by the professionals than the veterans. People need to do everything in their power to get well and have a therapist support them while they do it. Do not expect a therapist to heal PTS without maximum effort from the veteran. In addition, many drugs prescribed for PTS, anxiety, and depression make it difficult to integrate trauma because they dampen your emotions. Use them sparingly, get second opinions, and do your research. Therapy is a good tool, but do not expect results if we are doing only mental health counseling. Find a religion, work your ass off, eat clean, serve others, meditate, journal, get sunshine, and read about trauma.
From your perspective, how does the US care for veterans compared to other comparable countries?
I can only say what I have heard from British and Australian citizens. We have much more support and freedom on where that support comes from. Never forget entrepreneurs solve problems. In America, a person can create a new health business or charity with limited bureaucracy compared to England and Australia. I have been told this from veterans living in those countries, but honestly, I have never received treatment from any other country for PTS. So I do not know anything for sure.
What exciting new technological or methodological innovations are being used to improve veterans’ health outcomes?
I like the Stellate Ganglion Block, Ketamine therapy for PTS, NuCalm, Mind Tap, and Recovery & Resiliency.
This is our signature question that we ask in many of our interviews. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started My Career”?
- Just because it is important doesn’t mean people will listen. You must show them. I was so disappointed when I told people about the high veteran suicide rate back in 2012 because I felt that they were not listening. It took way too long (for me) to feel like we were making progress with raising awareness.
- Charity is hard because you must make the people the charity supports, your supporters’ employees, the IRS, and donors happy with your work. Balancing all these needs can be extremely difficult and some years someone will not think you are great, but they do not understand the balance.
- Success happens sometime before you are even aware of it. I was talking to my mentor several years ago and I was lamenting the fact that I did not feel like we had achieved any success. He looked me in the eye and said “man, you are already successful.”
- It is not your responsibility to save anyone; it is only your choice to try. I took every veteran suicide as a personal failure when Mission 22 first started out. If I would have kept that attitude going, I would have had to quit because it was so painful and not true.
- Even if your work is life and death for someone, don’t forget to spend time with your family. I worked harder on Mission 22 than I did my family, I regret it and it almost cost my family everything.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would say that I would inspire a movement of responsibility. Yes, many things indeed happened in my life that I was not in control of. I could blame my parents, my country, the military, and my God. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I must live with whoever I am. I need to say sorry more when I am wrong. I must think, “How can I do this?” not “Why can’t I do this.” Life is so short, and we all make many mistakes, but life is passing by; every moment we spend blaming and complaining is wasted. I am responsible for my health, faith, family, community, and country.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the Interviewer: Eric L. Pines is a nationally recognized federal employment lawyer, mediator, and attorney business coach. He represents federal employees and acts as in-house counsel for over fifty thousand federal employees through his work as a federal employee labor union representative. A formal federal employee himself, Mr. Pines began his federal employment law career as in-house counsel for AFGE Local 1923 which is in Social Security Administration’s headquarters and is the largest federal union local in the world. He presently serves as AFGE 1923’s Chief Counsel as well as in-house counsel for all FEMA bargaining unit employees and numerous Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs unions.
While he and his firm specialize in representing federal employees from all federal agencies and in reference to virtually all federal employee matters, his firm has placed special attention on representing Veteran Affairs doctors and nurses hired under the authority of Title. He and his firm have a particular passion in representing disabled federal employees with their requests for medical and religious reasonable accommodations when those accommodations are warranted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA). He also represents them with their requests for Federal Employee Disability Retirement (OPM) when an accommodation would not be possible.
Mr. Pines has also served as a mediator for numerous federal agencies including serving a year as the Library of Congress’ in-house EEO Mediator. He has also served as an expert witness in federal court for federal employee matters. He has also worked as an EEO technical writer drafting hundreds of Final Agency Decisions for the federal sector.
Mr. Pines’ firm is headquartered in Houston, Texas and has offices in Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia. His first passion is his wife and five children. He plays classical and rock guitar and enjoys playing ice hockey, running, and biking. Please visit his websites at www.pinesfederal.com and www.toughinjurylawyers.com. He can also be reached at [email protected].
Veterans Care Today: Magnus Johnson Of Mission 22 On How The US Has Improved Its Care For Veterans… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.