Jason Kander’s mayoral campaign succumbs to PTSD but his honesty has helped other veterans

By Jamal Simmons
Opinion Contributor

Last July, I sat down for a conversation with Jason Kander at Third Way’s Opportunity 2020 conference in Columbus, Ohio. The Afghan war veteran had recently decided not to run for president, campaigning for Kansas City mayor instead. His decision disappointed many Democrats, but Kander seemed excited about making a political contribution closer to home.

On stage we talked about a variety of things: the importance of entrepreneurship to local development, the triumph of passion in politics, having sons who share similar odd names. Before we finished, Kander gave his views on political courage.

“We have an awful lot of people in politics, who the hardest thing they’ve ever done in their lives is run the campaign that put them into office,” he said. “And when that’s the case, it … feels to them like the worst thing that could ever happen is losing their job, and that tends to be why we don’t have folks who maybe take the risks we need to advance.”

Today, Kander announced that he is dropping out of the Kansas City mayor’s race and pulling back from Let America Vote, his organization focused on fighting voter suppression in America. He revealed that he has been struggling with PTSD and needs to focus on his health.

Most politicians would regard these decisions as politically courageous, but Kander told me in Columbus that, as an Army intelligence officer, he saw courage up close in Afghanistan and we “set the bar too low.”

Here are his words:

"I decided to be public for two reasons: First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues (to) realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own. Most people probably didn’t see me as someone that could be depressed and have had PTSD symptoms for over decade, but I am and I have. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.”

Whatever Jason Kander does in the future, revealing his mental health struggle and dealing with it directly may have already helped more American veterans struggling with the scars of battle than most of the politicians who thump their chests in empty patriotic displays. That’s the kind of risk-taking we need to advance.

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns. He is a liberal host for The Hill’s new Hill.TV video division.