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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 4, 2014 5 years ago

Job insurance

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An innovative program to train disabled veterans could boost the ranks of the insurance industry.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

There are plenty of charities that benefit disabled military veterans, but many of them do little more than stage elaborate welcome-home ceremonies.

Despite well-meaning efforts, more than 60% of disabled veterans are unemployed today. But a group of insurance industry executives and retired military officers in Fort Myers have an ambitious plan to make a dent in that sad statistic.

Gary Trippe and James Pender, who sold their insurance brokerage firm Oswald Trippe and Co. to regional banking powerhouse BB&T in 2009, are spearheading a nonprofit organization they formed called Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers.

This is no small undertaking.

DVIC plans to spend $50,000 per veteran who is accepted into a program to learn to sell insurance. Once they pass a one-year course, DVIC will employ the veterans and outsource their services to insurance-brokerage firms all over the country. The funds generated from contracts with insurance brokers will be reinvested in the organization to grow it further.

One key to making this work is technology that allows for online learning. “Five years ago, you couldn't have done this,” says Trippe.

But make no mistake; this isn't some after-work online tutorial. The course takes a full year to complete and it requires veterans to put in 40 hours a week. “It's very intense training,” says Gary Bryant, DVIC's president and CEO, and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.

Because of the program's rigor, DVIC will pay each veteran about $25,000 to attend classes and complete the coursework, which should provide him or her with a living wage while he or she is also receiving disability benefits. The other $25,000 will be spent to pay instructors and provide course materials.

Paying veterans to attend school is an unusual approach, the founders concede. “We want them to approach this as a job,” says Trippe. “We don't want the training to be an afterthought.”

The first class will begin April 7 in Chicago with two students at Hub International, an insurance brokerage firm. A week later, DVIC hopes to start teaching another two students in Fort Myers. The idea is to start with a few students to work out the details as you might with any pilot project. “Once you get rolling, it snowballs,” says Trippe.

Bryant says there could be “tens of thousands” of disabled veterans in the U.S., but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't disclose their identities. Reaching them will be a challenge, Bryant acknowledges. Once they apply, candidates face a rigorous nine-step process that includes personality assessments, background checks and interviews.

Trippe says that it's taken longer for the organization to start up than he anticipated. DVIC has spent the last two years obtaining its nonprofit status from the IRS, raising money and developing a curriculum with the help from the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research in Austin, Texas, and Lee Knapp, a sales trainer and consultant in Fort Myers.

For the year ending Sept. 30, 2012, DVIC reported contributions of more than $250,000, according to the latest IRS filing posted on Guidestar. “The fundraising has improved to the level where we can start the program,” says Trippe, who says the insurance industry has helped fund the startup.

While some class attendance will be required initially, the goal is to teach disabled veterans through online courses and virtual classrooms. Texas technology consultant Brady Polansky has been assisting in that effort, which will include helping disabled veterans to work from home. “He understands our industry,” Trippe says.

Once trained, disabled veterans will have an opportunity to work for DVIC, though they won't be required to do so. The nonprofit intends to contract with insurance brokers all over the country to help them cross-sell various insurance products to their existing and prospective clients. “That will fund our growth,” says Trippe.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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