• Share

Making a Home for Those Who Have Served: Coke Helps Disabled Vets Tap Into Their Potential

By:  Noam Neusner Nov 11, 2013
Tags & Topics:
Veteran

The Coca-Cola Foundation supports the National Organization on Disability (NOD)’s Wounded Warrior Careers program, which helps severely injured veterans advance their careers.

For over a quarter of a century, The Coca Cola Company, The Coca-Cola Foundation and the National Organization on Disability (NOD) have worked together to ensure people with disabilities, as well as wounded veterans, have the opportunity to contribute to the workforce.

While the company’s efforts on behalf of American servicemen and women are wide-ranging, including support for the USO and the Wounded Warrior Project® in recent years, The Coca-Cola Foundation has also supported NOD’s innovative “Wounded Warrior Careers” program, which helps severely injured veterans move forward on career paths.

To get an idea of how important programs like this are – you need only sit down with Scott Vycital, former Army Specialist with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Vycital has received extensive help through the Wounded Warriors Careers program, and his story is currently featured in a National Disability Employment Awareness Month display at Coke’s Atlanta headquarters.

A Life-Threatening Injury

In 2004, Vycital was on patrol in Mahmudya, Iraq, searching for suspected mortar sites when he was shot. The bullet entered his skull and worked its way into his neck and back.

Veteran

Scott Vycital, a former Army Specialist with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, has received extensive help through the Wounded Warriors Careers program.

A battlefield injury like that would, at best, be a paralyzing shot and more likely be a fatal blow. However, as his parents told him, "Someone was looking out for you that day.” Not only did Vycital make it off the battlefield, but with painstaking work, determination and a strong support group, he has thrived beyond anyone’s expectations.

The road to recovery was not easy though. He lost hearing in his right ear and suffered partial facial paralysis. Vycital says he struggles with the mental effects of his injury as well.

“I’d say that’s the biggest hurdle,” he says. “The physical wounds, they heal. But the other wounds are much tougher.”

With the support of the Wounded Warriors Careers program and NOD, Scott moved with his wife and four children to Fort Collins, Colorado, to be closer to his wife’s family and enrolled at Colorado State University. In 2008, he graduated with a degree in accounting.

Upon graduation, he received several job offers, and with the help of NOD went to work for the Federal Highway Administration as a programs and planning financial specialist. He still works there today.

“It has really meant a lot, to get the help I received,” he says. “And it means a lot to know that if something were to happen while you’re serving, companies and agencies are going to help you when you get home.”

His story was so inspirational that he was asked by NOD to go to Washington, D.C, to share his experience with members of Congress in 2009. In 2010, he attended the State of the Union address as the guest of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The Importance of Coke’s Support

Vycital commends Coca-Cola and other companies who go out of their way to hire persons with disabilities, especially those who have served their country. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because they are a valuable resource.

“People need to know that it’s an incredible workforce to tap into,” Vycital said. “You’ve got really trained, hard-working people who volunteered when they were young because they wanted something more. I think it’s great to take a chance on these guys.”

Sadly, Vycital’s story is the exception rather than the norm, according to multiple groups who advocate for disabled veterans. Many veterans – whether those with disabilities or not – struggle with the transition to the civilian workforce.

NOD says its research shows those with disabilities often don’t get the same kind of information and support their colleagues do, both in terms of training and opportunities for advancement. Job interviews for anyone can be stressful, but especially for those who haven’t had one after several years of active service. Typically, NOD and other programs like USO/Hire Heroes USA helps veterans returning to civilian life by scheduling mock interviews, reviewing resumes and practicing answers to key questions.

These efforts, according to Carol Glazer, NOD president, are essential to all kinds of workers.

“With approximately two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities unemployed, we can’t stress enough the importance of supporting our wounded veterans as many transition into the civilian workforce,” she said. “This support cannot have a time limit. These soldiers have given so much; we need to be there for them as long as it takes.”

Over 275 seriously injured veterans have been served by the Wounded Warrior Careers program since the program’s inception in 2007. More than 70 percent of the veterans participating in the effort have successfully transitioned into education, training or work, which is twice the rate of veterans not benefiting from the program.

Coca-Cola and Veterans

In addition to our support for the Wounded Warrior Careers program, Coca-Cola has been a leader in the disability and veteran employment arenas. The company also has dedicated Business Resource Groups that enable associates to participate in professional and personal growth opportunities through training and education, community projects, networking events, and more. One such group is specifically devoted to furthering opportunities for military veterans. The company also exceeded a goal of hiring at least 800 veterans in 2012 – hiring 888 veterans last year– and plans to build on that figure this year and beyond.