Exclusive interview with Jason Kander before his sold-out event at the J


By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

In his new book, “Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD,” former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander shares his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts following his service in Afghanistan.

On July 14, the JCC will host “An Evening with Jason Kander” in the form of a conversation with Missouri state senator Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County. Schupp and Kander are longtime friends and colleagues. They are also Jewish. The Jewish Light caught up with Kander last week during his book tour to discuss PTSD, seeking balance in life and whether he might run for office again in the future.

How does the grind of a book tour compare to campaigning for elected office?

It’s a little less chaotic than campaigning, but it is just similar enough to remind me that I’m really glad I don’t do this all the time. I’m having fun doing TV and radio and interviews. I think I’m good at it, and I like attention, but I’m not with my family right now. I’m not able to do the usual routines that I do at home. I missed a Little League game the other night and I’m the coach.

In your travels have you met veterans who have shared their own experiences with PTSD?

Yes—one of the good things about being very open about your mental health is that you become for others a safe place for people to come to you and talk about their own struggles, and not just veterans—all sorts of people. Sometimes they will ask me for advice and I’m able to lend some encouragement that I think might be helpful to them. It’s nice to be able to do that on a one-on-one basis.

Some 8 million Americans suffer from PTSD. What motivates you to try and help them get treatment?

This is just a continuation of public service. I feel that I’ve made a greater impact just by talking about my own mental health journey than I probably did at any point in office. I think there’s something really gratifying about when people come up and they frequently talk about some way that you and they have something in common and that you’ve been able to affect their life in a positive way.

Did opening up your private thoughts and issues come a little more naturally because of your experiences as a public official, or was it still tough?

I think initially, actually, it made it harder because as a politician, you’re sort of selling a package, like you’re trying to package up your persona and offer it to the public and say, ‘Look, don’t you want to buy this? Don’t you want to vote for this?’ And that placed a lot of pressure on me over those years to convince myself, in order to convince others that I was fine, that I wasn’t. I think that everybody is trying to present a certain version of themselves to themselves and to the people around them. And as somebody who was in the public eye, I was no different. It’s part of what caused me to take so long to have a reckoning with my reality and my symptoms.

How did your Jewish education and upbringing inform your own governing philosophy?

As I get older, I’ve become more involved with my own Jewish identity. But I think that it’s not difficult to track the energy of our household to tikkun olam, the idea that healing the world, repairing the world, is our responsibility. My parents were juvenile probation officers. My dad was also a police officer. I came from a family where the idea of serving others was highly respected, and it was certainly emphasized as a vocational goal, far above how much money I could make.

Is there any chance that you might re-enter politics at some point in the future?

Nothing is off the table for me. I just really like the job I have, and I like the life that I have at the moment. I think the assumption that people have often about me is that I am just itching to get back into running for office, but I just can’t get over this darn PTSD. The reality is I really am enjoying my life right now. I can be present physically and emotionally with my family, and I’m enjoying life, and I’m making a really serious impact in the world in a variety of ways. That’s why I just don’t have any desire to run for anything right now, because I like what I’m doing. But I don’t rule it out.

Can you talk a little bit about your view of the future of democracy in the U.S and how we can overcome some of the challenges to democracy?

I’m really concerned about the country. That’s why I stay very involved politically through my podcast and I’m on the board of Giffords and Let America Vote. When I feel strongly about something, I speak up. I’m really concerned about the direction we’re heading in. Americans are really lacking shared experience right now, and that means that we’re lacking in national identity. When you lack in that common understanding of one another, that common bond, it makes it awfully hard to get anything done. I feel like Generation Z is frequently using technological platforms to reach out and build connectivity and build community with people who are not like them. They’re curious about people who are not like them. And that makes me feel more optimistic about the future.

What can the audience at the J expect during your conversation with Jill Schupp?

It will be a conversation between two friends who care about each other a lot, but any conversation hosted by Jill Schupp is going to be one in which she has done her homework, because that’s what she does. She prepares better than anybody else. And it will be probably one of my favorites of all of these events that I’m doing.

All royalties from the sale of Kander’s book go to fund the Veterans Community Project.