PTSD experiences motivate student veteran to help other soldiers

Arsalan Rehman has his future in sight. He wants to earn a bachelor's degree in social work, then a master's, and put them to use helping others.

Arsalan Rehman in combat gear holding a rifleView print quality image
Arsalan Rehman said he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after a deployment to Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Arsalan Rehman

His motivation, however, is a little different from other Indiana University students.

The 24-year-old Granger, Indiana, native served four years in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, and has battled through post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the deaths of soldiers he knew during his deployment.

Rehman started his coursework at IU South Bend in the spring and transferred to Bloomington this fall. He'd like to eventually help other soldiers the way he received help.

"I think in the long-term I do see myself working with other veterans," he said. "I fit in well with them and, being a veteran, I think they'd warm up to me more easily because I understand what they are feeling.

"I'm also interested in working with at-risk youth, to help steer them away from wrong paths to right ones. I feel like a lot of kids are put in the situation where they don't have a positive role model in their life."

Rehman said he sought a positive influence in the military. He started at a community college after high school but realized he needed to mature. He left school and joined the Army to learn skills and values, and to serve his country.

He served in the 82nd Airborne Division with a parachute infantry regiment, and was a rifleman, machine gunner and machine gun team leader. Rehman was in Afghanistan from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018 as part of Operation Freedom's Sentinel, assisting the Afghan army with its operations.

Seven U.S. Army soldiers stand in front of a large American flagView print quality image
Rehman, third from right, said serving in the U.S. Army was an honor, and he wants to help veterans who are struggling like he did. Photo courtesy of Arsalan Rehman

"When I think back on my time in the military, it was the greatest honor of my life, to make all the friends that I did and see the world in a different way," Rehman said.

Life got tougher when Rehman returned from deployment. He was troubled by thoughts of friends who didn't return home, and how they were viewed and whether people cared.

"It was really hard to get over," he said. "I'd just start crying, and I started to have panic attacks. I couldn't do anything. I'd be in bed all day and cry a lot."

Rehman said his mother's encouragement led him to seek help through a Veterans Affairs hospital. He said his counselor helped him learn that just because bad things had happened, that it didn't mean good things wouldn't happen later on. Rehman also said it was his counselor's encouragement that made him pursue social work.

"I felt like social work is where I would regain that sense of purpose. All I want to do for a job is help people," Rehman said.

He started his studies at IU South Bend in the spring and did so well that he made the dean's list.

"That was a pretty big accomplishment for me, especially after coming shortly after a time that was very rough," Rehman said.

Lindsay Evans taught Rehman in her introduction to social work class at IU South Bend. She said her first impression was that he was reserved, but eventually she learned that he was always processing what he was learning and reflecting on his life experiences.

"As I grew to know Arsalan, I found that he was genuine, compassionate and had a great desire to help veterans who had found themselves struggling to reintegrate into civilian life," Evans said. "I am so excited to see him continue to grow as a social worker."