SOUNDING OFF:Grammy-winner, John Mayer, sings the praises of our service men and women who bravely protect and defend.Photo: Patrick Nichols

You’re well recognized for your dedication to our service members. Not only are you known to donate concert tickets, revenue, and care packages, but also for your proactive approach beyond these examples. Can you tell us more about your extensive outreach?

We try to help veterans wherever we can. We have a series of programs in partnership with the Northern California Institute for Research and Education, one of the best groups around studying post-traumatic stress, how to prevent it and how to help veterans dealing with it. Once we look at the data gauging the impact on veterans, we’ll work to get them replicated all over the country.

What first inspired you to get involved with helping veterans?

I’ve always felt gratitude for young people who volunteer to serve and protect our country, but it was after a visit to Camp Lejeune with a friend five or six years ago that I really understood there’s a culture here that needs to be respected, and a huge need for supporting returning combat vets. And in this case support goes further than just a point of view or an opinion. “I support our troops” is a bit of an IOU, because when they’re overseas the best we can do is send our thoughts and prayers. What that phrase also means to me is “I’ll be here for them when they return in whatever way I possibly can.” It’s the “action” half of the declaration, which isn’t always easy to remember.

GIVING BACK: John Mayer lends a hand at Veterans Build 2013, an initiative to build homes for those coming back from duty supported by The Bob Woodruff Foundation. Photo: Kevin Stevenson

What is your goal for helping veterans? What change do you hope to see?

We just want them to be able to live happy, healthy, productive lives. Hopefully, when they return, they’ve got a huge majority of their life still to come. This is a hopeful issue, keeping that in mind.

Why do you feel it is our duty as Americans to help our veterans readjust to life after deployment?

I guess I’d flip that around and ask why wouldn’t it be?  When fighting men and women return from battle, it’s the duty of a community to rally around them, take them in, help them, heal them, and do it with real grace.

What are some of the biggest reintegration obstacles you’ve seen?

There are several key factors, and in each veteran’s circumstance they have a different combination and/or balance of factors. The main factors seem to be financial hardship, psychological issues like PTSD and traumatic brain injury, addiction issues, and relationship problems. Come to think of it, there are a lot more than a few.

How have your experiences with veterans helped you to better understand the psychological challenges of returning?

One thing I’ve learned in the years since I’ve become involved in this cause is there are as many different types of veterans as there are veterans. There are very few universalities involved, but in the few that exist in most returning vets, it seems that what they all want is to be treated with dignity. I’ve been trying to crack that code for a while, to be honest. Having asked hundreds of veterans what it is they want the most, it seems like the answer is “just understand that you will never understand.” If you just proceed while keeping that in mind, there really is a line of communication and respect that opens up when you show some deference. These guys and girls have no patience for sanctimoniousness. And when you start questioning why, you begin to have some compassion for what it is they might have gone though.   

In your opinion, how can mental health research and scientific advancements help the overall well-being of our returning troops, who may suffer from PTSD?

Scientifically, we know so much about post-traumatic stress.  We know how it affects the brain and the body, and we are right on the edge of amazing discoveries. But the interesting thing we already know is that it is 100 percent treatable.  We just need to create more ways to get these programs to veterans. And make sure they understand we’re here for them when they come home.