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Hope for heroes

New nonprofit organization offers disabled veterans an insurance career path

By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU

For members of the U.S. armed forces who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, coming home usually is a joyous occasion for the veteran and his or her family, friends, and community.

Once the celebrations are over, however, many veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life and may face personal challenges as well as difficulty in resuming previous employment or finding a new job.

For service members who come home with physical disabilities, these challenges can be overwhelming. Disabled vets not only must learn to accept their physical limitations and make the emotional adjustment to a new reality, they also must navigate the complex military health care system to gain access to appropriate treatment and rehabilitation. Many disabled veterans are unable to return to their civilian occupations and encounter daunting obstacles when seeking new work in today's troubled economy.

Offering help, hope, and practical solutions is Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers (DVIC), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate, train and generate meaningful employment opportunities for physically disabled veterans in the property/casualty insurance industry.

DVIC, which represents a coalition of insurance industry leaders, retired military officers, and a local United Way executive, will work closely with the Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service (VR&E) of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

DVIC was co-founded by Gary Trippe and James Pender, who with Gary's wife, Gay, were the co-founders of Oswald Trippe and Company, a leading independent agency in southwest Florida that is now owned by BB&T. Today Pender is honorary chairman of BB&T-Oswald Trippe, and Gary Trippe serves as managing director.

"Jim and I have been friends and business partners for over 30 years," Gary says. "Early in 2010 we started talking about ways in which we could provide meaningful and fulfilling employment for persons with disabilities."

From the heart

For both men, the desire to support individuals with physical challenges had its roots in personal experience.

"My older brother was born with cerebral palsy and had severe physical and mental disabilities," Gary explains. "My parents devoted themselves to making his life as meaningful as possible. So, from a personal standpoint, I have a passion for becoming involved in efforts to help persons with disabilities."

Jim's conviction is equally strong. "In my family, we had a son who was injured in an accident at the age of eight and died when he was 19. During that time, we became intimately familiar with the issues that affect individuals and their families who are dealing with disabilities and the challenges they face."

Acutely aware of the difficulties that confront physically disabled veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Pender and Trippe decided to establish an organization that would focus on helping these heroes prepare for meaningful careers in the insurance business. In January of this year, the founders announced the creation of Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers. Based in Fort Myers, Florida, DVIC has been approved by the IRS to operate as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) private foundation.

Providing educational and training support to DVIC is founding member Lee Knapp, president of Knapp Consultants, a business training and development firm based in Fort Myers. For many years before the BB&T acquisition, Knapp served as an outside sales coach for Oswald Trippe, and she was delighted when Trippe and Pender invited her to develop training modules for the veterans who will participate in DVIC.

"Over the years of my relationship with the people at Oswald Trippe, I had the opportunity to learn about the insurance business," Lee says. "I became familiar with the products, the carriers, and the skills that are required to sell insurance. That's a big advantage for me as I develop the sales training program for DVIC."

Trippe and Pender were eager to involve Knapp because of her innate ability to connect with people and to help them feel important and valued. "Everyone wants to feel that he or she matters and can develop the skills to succeed," she says. "That's even more crucial for individuals with disabilities, who often struggle with issues of self-esteem in addition to their physical challenges. Because we'll be delivering our training via phone and the Internet, it will be key for me to connect with our students on a powerful, personal level."

Members of DVIC's strategic board, in addition to Trippe, Pender, and Knapp, are Brady Polansky, CPCU, CIC, president and chief executive officer, NetVU (Network of Vertafore Users); Jon Bidwell, senior vice president and chief innovation officer, Chubb Insurance Group, founding member; Walter Gdowski, president and chief executive officer, The Rough Notes Company; James Hackbarth, president, Assurex Global; George (Shad) Steadman III, vice chairman, Rutherfoord, A Marsh & McLennan Agency; retired U.S. Air Force Captain Gerald J. Sullivan, chairman, The Sullivan Group; and John Wepler, president, Marsh, Berry & Co.

"We're incredibly fortunate to have the support of these key industry partners," Gary says. "We are reaching out to additional industry leaders who can see the value of DVIC's mission and vision."

The organization's operating board consists of retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Gary L. Bryant; retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James L. Dozier; Roger Mercado Jr., United Way of Lee, Hendry and Glades; Pender; and Gay and Gary Trippe.

How it works

The DVIC program is designed specifically to prepare physically disabled veterans for careers in personal lines sales and customer service. DVIC will recruit participants through veterans groups and community service organizations, and it will work with the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service to identify qualified disabled veterans who are potential participants. Candidates will be assessed using standard insurance industry profiling tools like Caliper and Omnia.

State-of-the-art training for disabled veterans will be offered in two career tracks: sales and service. Two senior-level independent agency employees, a sales manager and a senior account executive, will be selected to manage the veterans' work. Using a state-by-state approach, DVIC's founding members will identify top independent agencies and invite them to participate. In the near future, the DVIC leadership will announce the name of a pilot agency for the project.

After veterans have completed the educational and training program and obtained state licenses, DVIC will attempt to place them with agencies or carriers. If DVIC cannot place a graduate, it will offer him or her employment and contract with agencies or insurers to provide services.

In the first phase of the program, tentatively scheduled to begin during the first quarter of 2012, DVIC plans to train a minimum of 24 physically disabled veterans in three groups or classes for one year through a partnership with an accredited institution of higher learning. Additional training will be instituted to ensure ongoing career opportunities and a consistent pipeline of qualified employees for agencies and carriers.

The curriculum will be taught through online courses and virtual classrooms and will be presented in three stages: Sales Expectations, Achieving Sales Expectations, and Achieving Maximum Performance. Online training will include testing (feedback) and telephone role playing throughout each stage of the training process. Technical training, both generic (e.g., auto insurance, homeowners insurance) and insurance company-specific, will be delivered through proprietary offerings of participating insurance companies. Students will receive a training wage or stipend.

Virtual office

As Lee Knapp noted earlier, training will be delivered to participating veterans in a virtual setting. Likewise, graduates of the DVIC program who are placed with agencies or carriers will work in a virtual office from home, using the phone and the Internet to perform their duties. This will eliminate the need for disabled veterans to negotiate the numerous challenges involved in commuting to and from work and then trying to find comfortable accommodation in a conventional office setting.

A vital element of DVIC's success will be a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure, the founders point out. Multiple trading partners who use disparate systems will need to communicate in secure, efficient channels. These key partners will include remote employees and their managers; the independent agencies on whose behalf they will be selling; the insurance companies that will write the coverage, and the customers who will purchase the coverage.

Other trading partners will include insurance rating software vendors, regulators, licensing bureaus, trainers, and investors. DVIC plans to partner with a quality technology company to coordinate the required information technology.

In addition to supporting remote employees, the IT infrastructure must comply with current requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act to foster interaction between clients and disabled veterans.

The infrastructure will also support voice communications in a way that allows for remote routing of phone calls to the various stakeholders via Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). All systems will use cloud computing technologies so that the core of the systems can be managed from the host location or anywhere else in the world.

Everyone wins

As Jim Pender and Gary Trippe see it, Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers is in no sense a one-sided effort aimed solely at training veterans whose career options are restricted by their combat injuries. The two co-founders see DVIC as a win for every individual and organization that participates.

"We will enable those who have served and sacrificed for our country to become trained and licensed in sales and support for participating agencies across the country," Gary says. "We will also reduce or eliminate the burdens often associated with their physical challenges."

"DVIC's goal is to offer meaningful career opportunities to heroes and heroines who risked everything for our nation," Jim says.  "Everyone involved will benefit from the results."

For more information:

Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers

Web site:


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