MOSCOW, Idaho The demons don t visit nearly as often as they did when Bart Gutke was sent home from the Iraq in 2006, a 21-year-old with a traumatic brain injury. He was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps a year later.
To look at Mr. Gutke now is to see a 23-year-old with close-shaved blond hair and intense blue eyes, just another kid schlepping his backpack across the University of Idaho campus.
But underneath the uniform of a typical college student is an ex-soldier on prescribed medications who battles depression, insomnia, anxiety, chronic headaches, mild hearing and memory loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
You wouldn t look at me and think wounded soldier, Gutke said.
This status, no matter how hidden, gives him access to a program at the University of Idaho that helps severely and permanently wounded Iraq veterans enroll and graduate without debt.
The Operation Education program was created at Idaho in 2006 and replicated this fall at Adrian College, a private Methodist school.
Karen White, wife of former UI president Tim White, spearheaded the program for wounded veterans and helped pull together $400,000 to pay for it. We kind of expected the students to be typical amputees, White said.
Instead of soldiers with missing limbs, the program has opened doors for servicemen suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, soldiers like Mr. Gutke, who is one of three students who are enrolled on the Moscow campus through Operation Education.
The university created the program to make up for the financial shortfalls veterans face after they ve exhausted state and federal financial aid and benefits under the GI Bill.
The current GI benefit is $1,101 a month for up to 36 months for qualifying active-duty personnel and $317 per month for reservists.
Three wounded veterans have enrolled through the program, said Rick Creehan, Adrian s vice president.
The college contacted the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to see if other schools, besides the University of Idaho, have adopted comprehensive programs to financially assist wounded veterans and ensure they don t have to work while earning their degrees and graduate without debt.
They were not aware of anything like this, Creehan said. Mr. Gutke said he hoped the program would bring awareness to the private battles soldiers face at home.
He could have been among the soldiers who went untreated, he could have canceled school as an option while struggling to help his 22-year-old wife, Jonette, rear their son, Jack, who turned one in August.
I was just really lucky, he said.