Kansas City mayoral candidate and Democratic rising star Jason Kander, a former Army intelligence officer and Afghanistan veteran, announced Tuesday that he will be suspending his campaign to focus on his mental health, he wrote in a letter posted to his website.
“About four months ago, I contacted the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] to get help. It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day,” the statement read. “So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.”
Still, he said, he knew something was deeply wrong. Kander wrote that, after 11 years of symptoms, he finally took a step toward dealing with his PTSD earlier this year, but, when he filled out VA forms, he left some boxes unchecked because he was scared to acknowledge some of his symptoms.
I suffer from depression and have PTSD symptoms. After 11 years, I'm finally ready to do something about it: https://t.co/tfi8XaLcBj
— Jason Kander (@JasonKander) October 2, 2018
“I was afraid of the stigma. I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out,” Kander said. “That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.”
Kander shared in the letter that he’d had suicidal thoughts on more than one occasion in the years since his deployment, and said he has nightmares and depression.
“I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself,” he wrote. “After 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”
Kander went to the VA in Kansas City on Monday. He said he will be receiving help there regularly, and has decided to suspend his campaign to focus on his health. In the statement, Kander said he had originally hoped returning to his hometown and running for mayor would “fill the hole” inside of him, but instead his condition had only grown worse.
Kander’s letter comes one week after news broke that his mayoral campaign was set to raise more money than any other Kansas City mayoral campaign ever, in a single quarter. Instead of celebrating, Kander said he found himself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, admitting he had suicidal thoughts.
“I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression,” he wrote, adding that he decided to be public about his reason for not running because he believed it would help him through it. He said he also hoped to send a message to other people with mental health issues.
“I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own,” he wrote. “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.”
Kander’s letter on Tuesday attracted so much attention in the minutes after it was posted that his website crashed.
Kander rose to national prominence during his run for Senate in Missouri in 2016, which he lost to incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). During the campaign, an ad showing Kander putting together a rifle while blindfolded, talking about why he supports background checks, went viral.
According to the VA, between 11 and 20 percent of veterans who served in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. About 12 percent of Desert Storm veterans have PTSD, as do about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans.
One of the other populations most likely to experience PTSD is women who have been sexually assaulted. According to RAINN, 94 percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of PTSD in the two weeks following the attack, and 30 percent report symptoms of PTSD nine months after the rape.
Kander’s letter about his own experiences with PTSD comes just days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, testified she had experienced PTSD symptoms in the years since her attack.
“For me personally, anxiety, phobia, and PTSD-like symptoms are the types of things I’ve been coping with,” she said during sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee last Thursday. “More specifically, claustrophobia, panic and that type of thing.”
The VA Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255. As Kander noted in his letter Tuesday, non-veterans can use the number, as well.