“I am about the same age as the first wave of Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans,” said popular singer John Mayer, speaking about today’s post-9/11 veterans. “I have felt gratitude and discomfort about the disproportionately large burden that military service members carry in our society, and I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to ‘support the troops’ with real action instead of platitudes.”
The 7-time Grammy winner is one of the rare stars who has used his celebrity to shed light on veterans’ issues. In 2019, Mayer launched the Heart and Armor Foundation for Veterans Health, which focuses on PTSD, the needs of female veterans, and more recently, ethnicity and traumatic stress. They have produced 10 scientific publications, research results and community programs and have generated over $8 million in federal funding to continue research.
“John is a really erudite guy,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director, Gerard Choucroun, back in 2013. “He relates well with veterans. There are much faster ways to get attention and public credit for supporting veterans. But John works on complicated projects that require patience and time. We are incredibly lucky to have that type of support. It’s atypical.”
Mayer was born in 1977 in Connecticut and briefly attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before starting the first of his bands. He rose to fame with his debut album “Room for Squares” in 2001, which included several radio hits like “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Why Georgia.” His acoustic sound and easy listening tracks had favorable reviews from Billboard and Rolling Stone. Since then, he has toured the world, earned numerous major awards, and had appearances in films and television.
The guitarist has spent nearly 20 years in the public eye but has always been involved in philanthropy. His father served in the Army in World War II and set an important example for his son . Richard Mayer, now ninety-three years old, went on to become an educator following his service. But Mayer’s initial interest in veterans’ issues was sparked by a visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in 2008.
“It was going to the wounded warrior barracks that I think changed me forever,” he told the Associated Press. “It immediately showed me that my notion of what I think (are) the wounds of war are completely wrong. The way in which I was proven wrong was so compelling and fascinating and nuanced.”
He went on to star in an episode of Sesame Street devoted to military families in 2009 and then funded veteran research in 2012, which paved the way for his current program. In the long run, the Heart and Armor Foundation aims to create two research centers to serve veterans and to generate $50 million in veterans research.
“I have loved participating in the scientific approach to veterans’ health. It feels real and permanent and lasting. I have been tremendously moved by the stories of veterans, oftentimes with nothing more in common than powerful connections to one another by way of an almost reflexive instinct to serve,” he said.
“We can all do a better job of sharing the burden. Listening. Exploring. Risking. Participating. Serving one another, even when it’s inconvenient and tedious. Not getting overwhelmed or discouraged by our differences. Solving problems that we may not have had a hand in causing. Keeping our sense of humor while taking it all seriously.”