Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD
Jason Kander 2022
Imagine a life going from facing potential death in Afghanistan to relative obscurity in Missouri politics to National acclaim and stardom- and then to losing everything with a PTSD diagnosis and crash heard around the world. Jason Kander is probably the most famous veteran spokesperson for mental health, and he tells his journey in a moving and difficult book- Invisible Storm. Kander pulls no punches describing his symptoms, treatment, and recovery from an illness that made him feel suicidal and worthless, even while he was climbing the political ranks and becoming a serious contender for president of the United States. He has been forthright that his admission of PTSD may have eclipsed any future hope of holding office, but he had no choice, and thank goodness he found help when he did.
My first impression of Mr. Kander was when he ran for Secretary of State in my home state of Missouri in 2012 as a Democrat. (This was the last year that any Democrat was able to win statewide for over a decade) He took the job seriously and began a campaign to protect voting rights, eventually founding Let America Vote, a nonprofit that champions voting rights nationwide. In 2016 Kander ran against Senator Roy Blunt and nearly won in a year that Donald Trump carried Missouri by a landslide. This near-miss made him a rock star in political circles and he started hearing from celebrities like Jason Sudeikis, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and Jimmy Kimmel. He appeared on network talk shows and was deemed the best hope to reclaim Trump voters, having come from a red state and being a young, charismatic speaker.
Little did any of us know back then that Kander was a paranoid, angry man who was still suffering from symptoms of being in danger in Afghanistan. He hid it well in public. It makes me wonder what other public figures are like behind the veil of stardom. Kander even met with President Obama after both had left office, and the president chatted with him for over and hour, encouraging him to consider running against Trump in 2020. "You have what I had, you're the natural," Obama told him. Kander went to New Hampshire in early 2018 to test out his campaign organization and it looked very much like he was going to announce his candidacy.
But then considering his growing mental difficulties, Kander had second thoughts about such a pursuit and decided to run for mayor of Kansas City, his home town, instead. That run only lasted a few months and by the fall he announced to the world that he had PTSD and was removing himself from politics entirely. This must have been difficult for Kander and his family, but he writes in the book that it was entirely necessary given where he was mentally. Going from being a presidential candidate to mental patient is about as far as one can fall, but Kander writes positively about the therapy that he got at the VA, and his wife Diana chimes in at several points in the book to describe her journey as well.
Politics seems to be the preferred way to get things done, but Kander took the long way and accomplished possibly more than had he ever gotten elected to office again.
- His nonprofit, Let America Vote is still in existence and is fighting against voter suppression measures in multiples states.
- He has a new nonprofit that he now heads, the Veterans Community Project, VCP, that builds neighborhoods of tiny homes in cities around the country that cater specifically to the needs of veterans and those suffering from PTSD.
- Calls to the VA crisis hotline tripled in the weeks after his 2018 announcement, and this book will only add to the awareness of mental health among veterans, many of whom still commit suicide to this day. During his book tour, Kander reported that many more approached him with their own stories. The stigma around mental illness is still strong, and only the courage of people like Kander is able to break it.
- He has a podcast, Majority 54, that is highly regarded and could provide a springboard to future political endeavors, which he hasn't ruled out entirely but don't seem imminent.
I can't possibly imagine what it was like to be in Afghanistan. Kander only covers his time there briefly. He wasn't in any big gun battles, but the psychological damage was severe due to his being place alone repeatedly in dangerous situations with people of unknown allegiance. He felt he couldn't trust anybody or any environment, and it's hard to live like that. I was absolutely shocked to read that even now the armed forces do little to prepare troops mentally for what they are about to experience, nor do they do any type of follow-up on returning troops when they return home. Only if the veterans report symptoms do they get help, and that help appears to be lacking in many cases.
I don't think we've heard the last from Mr. Kander just yet. He has already started popping up in interviews and his charisma is even stronger than ever with his improved mental and physical state. Attitudes about mental illness are evolving, and his political career could still be revived once he decides he's ready. Kander speaks lovingly about his wife and two children, and they are clearly his priority right now and that's great.
PTSD victims try to control everything around them, fearing danger around every corner, and panic when they can't be in control. Kander's therapist told him that most of us only control maybe 3% of our daily lives, which gave me pause. You can't overstress about the many things you can't control, but you can focus on and appreciate the many things that you can.
Great, courageous book. Here is a recent interview by the author about his experience.