that saw active combat in Iraq or Afghanistan struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or chronic depression. And 19.5% of those same vets experienced a traumatic brain injury. There’s also a strong belief that these numbers are much lower than reality. Veterans are trained to not admit weakness, and admitting they struggle with PTSD or depression would be just that.
found that only half of returning vets needing mental health treatment will receive it for a variety of reasons such as shame, stigma, or long wait times.
Brian Johnson is one of the (at least) twenty percent who came home from active service with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. It led to depression and, finally, two suicide attempts. Thankfully, both failed.
“Back to reality, I decided to go ahead and really start addressing mental illness alongside the physical illness. And once we started addressing that, I really started to want to live again,” Brian told Housecall Pro in a phone interview. “Today I’ve gone from being passionate about killing myself to being passionate about helping other people
In August of 2019, Brian and his wife Malinda alongside fellow army veteran Todd Kramer, launched the nonprofit
to “connect Veterans impacted by a mental health diagnosis, PTSD, and/or addiction to resources, services, and mentorship through training and peer mentors in order to help reintroduce our Veterans to the Journey of Life.”
WarriorNow pairs up struggling veterans with mentors, offers mentor training, as well as peer support networks. But there’s also another key issue many veterans face after active duty that’s a personal passion of Brian’s: employment.
The Unofficial Trades Training Program
“We really want our soldiers, our family members, and our supporters to have what we miss in the civilian sector, which is structure, community and purpose. And a big part of the structure is proper employment,” Brian explained.
There are a number of reasons why veterans have a difficult time with steady employment. Many employers don’t know how to read a veteran’s atypical resume for relevant skills and experience. They might also be having a hard time adjusting to civilian life — an issue that Brian explained sometimes shows up as performance issues on the job.
“How do we get these guys and gals to be able to have meaningful work and make a good, decent living? In the home services sector, you can definitely do that,” Brian said.
He discovered this for himself first. From 2015 to early 2019, Brian was a VP of a larger garage door company that was sold. After that, he started his own company,
Brian hires veterans that have a history of employment issues or a criminal record as new technicians. He coaches them on business and life skills, because he understands both are necessary to thrive in the workplace.
He uses past experience on a crisis intervention team with the police department, along with his own personal experiences, to help veterans manage their mental health, their relationships with their families, money management, etc.
One tech has gone on to start his own business with Brian’s help. Others have gone on to stay employed in other home service businesses. He hopes to grow his business to be able to increase the number of veterans he’s helping through it:
“My future goal is to train vets in the trades to give them the ability to develop a true profession that they can be proud of and make a decent living at. And also one that's employable, because it’s not going away.”
Why And How to Work With Veterans — Brian’s Advice to Business Owners
When hiring a vet, Brian explained, “you’re going to get one of the hardest working people on the planet.”
In a normal job, you’re expected to work hard for forty hours a week. By comparison, in the service, folks are expected to work hard all the time. It’s ingrained in military culture; it’s a part of the disciplined lifestyle that service members live in throughout their years of service.
But this benefit can come with its own set of challenges. As one of the services of WarriorNow, Brian and Todd help educate business owners about how to successfully employ veterans. Since so many vets deal with mental health issues — the meat of their service is really helping business owners and managers know how to work with someone with mental health issues:
“I don't want them to get fired just because they have a bad day at the office due to a manic depressive episode or something like that. So how do we combat that? We go in and we teach the management, and we teach the frontline worker an independent class on how to work with people with mental illness and addiction.”
Brian offers three pieces of advice on how to best work with veterans, especially those with troubled pasts.
1. Hold Them Accountable
Brian’s first piece of advice is to maintain a high level of accountability through routine and clear performance standards. “We understand accountability. We thrive on structure,” Brian said.
2. Focus on Intentional Listening
As part of that accountability, when you know you’ve hired someone you know has a strong work ethic and their performance isn’t up to par, simply ask them what’s going on. What’s getting in the way?
“Don't ask too many questions, just listen. If they say something like, ‘I’m going through a divorce,’ ask them to tell you more. “And then you’ll be able to find out how you can relate to that individual. And sometimes that’s all it takes.”
In Brian’s experience, once a vet has been able to get something off their chest, it can act like a refresh button where they can go back to their normal MO.
3. Reward Positive Behavior
“We also thrive on being successful, on awards and recognition — stuff that's very prevalent in the military culture,” Brian said. Vets will flourish best in an environment where their hard work is recognized.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to work with veterans or collaborating with WarriorNow in other ways, contact Brian at