Correction to This Article
The caption on the photo that ran with this story in print on April 29 misidentified soldier Andrew Buchanan as Nathan Toews.
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Some War Veterans Find GI Bill Falls Short

 Veteran Nathan Toews, wounded in Afghanistan, has applied to college.
Veteran Nathan Toews, wounded in Afghanistan, has applied to college. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

Some states, such as Maryland, supplement federal benefits with state aid. That helped Laurissa Flowers, who used to put her University of Maryland bill on her credit card, paying it down as she received each month's benefits. Flowers said other issues can be just as daunting as the money, so she started a veterans' group on campus.

Private donors are trying to help, too: B.G. and Charlotte Beck of Fairfax Station gave $1 million to Arkansas State University to provide training, rehabilitation, guidance and extensive support for veterans on campus.

In June, the American Council on Education will host a conference hoping to spur colleges to start or expand initiatives for veterans. Dartmouth College President James Wright said he realized after visiting wounded soldiers that most of them were eager to go to school but had no idea where to begin. He worked with the education council, raising money to pay for a counselor at four military hospitals.

So this past year, Heather Bernard, a former college counselor with a son serving in Iraq, has been working with wounded soldiers and Marines at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center. She helps them plan ahead, choose schools, dig up old transcripts, prepare for standardized tests.

She found an evening art class for Calvin Linnette and Andre Knight, two soldiers who have to schedule around daytime medical appointments, at Montgomery College because it is close enough to Walter Reed that they can get there despite their injuries. The professor often helps them with a ride.

This month, Bernard was waiting nervously outside the admissions dean's office at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where Toews was interviewing.

High school was easy; Toews got good grades and SAT scores and was accepted into the engineering program at California Polytechnic State University. But his family couldn't afford tuition. About a year after Sept. 11, 2001, he enlisted.

He spent a year in Baghdad, then volunteered to serve in Afghanistan.

In 2006, he was a gunner for a small convoy, bringing supplies for an offensive when the trucks slowed down in rough terrain and "all hell broke loose," Toews said.

Two weeks later, he woke up in a hospital bed in Bethesda with no idea where he was or why. He spent the next couple of years getting surgeries and rehab.

As people at Walter Reed kept telling him how amazing his recovery has been, it hit him: He could work with brain-injured patients. "If I could somehow help one guy, encourage him or make things easier for him and his family, that I should do it," Toews said.

He still had a lot to figure out; that could mean studying neuroscience or social work or occupational therapy. And to write a college application essay? "It's been six years since I've done that kind of thing," he said.

Bernard coached him through it all, taking him to visit a big university and then to Dickinson. He talked with the admissions director about some of the challenges he might face, such as the phys ed requirement and a taking on a heavy course load after being out of school.

A freshman asked him what he had done in his time off since high school. "I joined the military," he said, skin grafts shining on his forearm, thick scars from a craniotomy tracing arcs on his skull, visible through his hair.

"Oh, that's cool," she said politely.

He and Bernard got lunch in the cafeteria, and he looked at the students swarming through. "They're all such . . . little . . . kids," he said.

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