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To have and to hold, part 1: Marcellus man earns prestigious veteran entrepreneurship award

Jerry Garritillo speaks at the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities class of 2013 opening dinner after receiving the Richard L. Hayden Outstanding Veteran-Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Jerry Garritillo speaks at the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities class of 2013 opening dinner after receiving the Richard L. Hayden Outstanding Veteran-Entrepreneur of the Year award.

The Garritillo Agency opened in 2007, and Jerry runs the business out of his own home in Marcellus. Through the agency, he helps seniors get Medicare and advocates for veterans to help them with their billing and Medicare needs.

Every year, Medicare sends a book by mail, and those receiving Medicare are supposed to decide what coverage they need.

“You get a book and you’re on your own,” Jerry said.

His mother had given him one of these books soon after he settled in the Syracuse area when he retired from the Air Force. Sifting through it, he realized there was a lot of information that people needed to better understand.

“If you’re on Medicare, you need to have coverage,” he said. “But when you get the book — most people, I would say 95 percent of my clients — have never opened up the book.”

“I would not open that book,” said Susan Garritillo, Jerry’s wife. “It would scare the living daylights out of me.”

Because the book is so complicated — it changes every year, too — and because so many veterans do not understand their Medicare benefits, Jerry makes being a veteran advocate a top priority in his business.

The Garritillo Agency’s success is largely rooted in Jerry’s past military experiences, particularly in his years excelling as a recruiter for the Air Force, and in the skills and training he received while participating in the EBV program. He was eligible to participate in the program because he has a 60 percent service-connected disability through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — he has a bad back, two bad knees, a bad ankle, “and for each one they’ll give you 10 percent for this, 10 percent for that, so percentage-wise, that’s why I’m 60 percent,” he said.

“[Jerry] is someone who definitely took to heart the training and the resources,” said Haynie, the EBV program’s founder. “He is firing on all cylinders business-wise now, and I think he’s been able to grow his business beyond expectations that maybe he had before he started with us.”

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