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'I was getting ready to run for president' | How PTSD and depression changed Jason Kander's life

Almost a year after stepping out of the political spotlight, the Afghanistan war veteran has a new mission.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — "I'm doing really well, thanks for asking," said Missouri's former Secretary of State Jason Kander.

It's been nearly a year since Kander made the surprising announcement that he was stepping off the political stage.

He was a rising star in the Democratic party. He nearly upset Roy Blunt in the 2016 Senate race, which would have turned a red state blue. Then, he began thinking White House.

"I mean, obviously I was, I was getting ready to run for president," he said.

But no matter what office he was running for, he couldn't outrun depression.

"Yeah, I didn't have a good night's sleep for over a decade," Kander said. "I had violent nightmares, um, to the point where I would stay up and find other things to do simply because I didn't want to go to sleep."

The nightmares started after returning from Afghanistan where he was an Army intelligence officer. He was in dozens of situations where he could have been kidnapped or killed. But because he was never in combat, he never viewed his depression as PTSD.

Then last fall, just as he was poised to become Kansas City's next mayor, he suddenly dropped out of the race and decided to get help.

"Things were just getting worse and worse cause I had not dealt with them for so long," Kander recalled. "And my suicidal thoughts have gotten frequent enough, scary enough that my wife and I decided that I needed to call the veteran's crisis line."

RELATED: Understanding PTSD after Jason Kander's announcement

Now that he's feeling better, people are asking when he's coming back.

"I am back and this is public service and I'm really excited about it," Kander said.

Kander works full time for the Veterans Community Project, which helps veterans with issues like jobs and mental health in the Kansas City area.

"We're meant to complement the other systems out there," said Bryan Meyer, the CEO of the Veterans Community Project.

The non-profit is also known for building a community of tiny houses for homeless vets.

Kander said these tiny home communities are helping to end homelessness for veterans in Kansas City, and now it's his job to take the program to St. Louis and across the nation.

"Our expansion criteria in this first round is the cities who are the most enthusiastic and make it as easy as possible for us to come in and do our work," Kander said.

"His passion for the project was really evident really early on, so we just kind of made the pitch of let's do this together," Meyer said.

RELATED: Missouri's Kander takes job at veterans nonprofit

And that passion has invited support from both political rivals like Roy Blunt and political allies like Pete Buttigieg, but Kander's own political ambitions remain on hold.  

"I drop my son off at school and pick him up almost every day, tuck him in almost every night and I get quality time with my wife every night," Kander said proudly.

Jason Kander's mission now is helping veterans and helping everyone to see that those suffering from PTSD don't have to suffer in silence.

"I'm really, really pleased with where my life is right now," he said.

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