Military service is tough and taxing, and many service members hope for an effortless re-entry into a civilian lifestyle.
But where veterans settle down after their service could play a big role in how smooth that transition really is. Even if theyâ€™re a couple years (or decades) out from their period of military service, the frequent moves of a military lifestyle means veterans could be less daunted by the prospect of relocating for a better quality of life.
We wanted to identify the best states for veterans, where they are more likely to find better opportunities and outcomes. We surveyed and ranked each city on several factors relevant to U.S. veterans:
- Veteran population, both currently and in projected changes.
- Veterans Affairs (VA) administration score, calculated based on the number of VA centers per enrollees in the state and patient ratings of these local VA facilities.
- Veteransâ€™ economic outcomes, measured by the median income for veterans, unemployment rates for veterans in the workforce and the median annual property taxes for home-owning veterans.
Hereâ€™s a look at our findings on the best states for veterans, and the worst. Hover over the map below to see whether your state is veteran-friendly.
- North Dakota takes the top spot with a final score of 67.9, thanks mostly to a deep satisfaction with VA services.
- Hawaii and Wyoming rank second and third, with respective scores of 67.7 and 67.1. Economic opportunities for veterans in Hawaii are among the best (and the weather canâ€™t hurt either!). And though Wyoming isnâ€™t a star in any specific category, it performs solidly across the metrics we considered.
- New Jersey comes in last on our list, due to high property taxes and a small population of veterans â€” its final score was 22.8.
- New York and California fill out the bottom three, with final scores of 28.1 and 29.9. Vets make up a small portion of the New Yorkâ€™s population and property taxes are high, while Californian vets are not happy with their VA services.
- Alaska is the state where youâ€™re most likely to have a vet as a neighbor. Thirteen percent of adults residing in Alaska have served in the Armed Forces, and itâ€™s the only state where the Department of Veterans Affairs doesnâ€™t expect the veteran population to shrink.
- Virginia boasts the highest incomes for veterans, most likely due to lucrative Department of Defense contractor opportunities.
- Veterans in Vermont love their VA services more than any other state. Tennesseans, on the other hand, are the most dissatisfied with their VA services.
The 10 best states for veterans
Among the 10 best states for veterans, people with a history of military service are likely to have some key benefits.
Theyâ€™re more likely to have access to a strong veteran community, accessible and higher-quality Veterans affair services and property tax policies that favor former members of the military. Veterans in these states also tend to earn more and face lower rates of workforce unemployment.
Hereâ€™s a closer look at what sets these states apart from others.
Strong veteran communities
The 10 best states for veterans have large veteran communities compared to other states. This is an important factor as the percentage of Americans who are veterans fell from 18% in 1980 to just 7% in 2016, per the Pew Research Center.
Alaskaâ€™s veteran community is the only one thatâ€™s expected to hold steady year over year. Alaska also has the largest veteran community, equal to 13.1% of its adult population. Other top states that scored favorably on veteran population factors include Wyoming, Virginia and Hawaii.
Accessible, high-quality VA services
These states also provide a higher quantity and quality of VA health care and services.
Vermont is the state that scores the best across all factors, scoring an impressive 91.3 in this category. Vermont and Wyoming had the highest patient ratings for both VA primary and specialty care facilities.
Wyoming has the most VA outpatient and inpatient facilities per capita, at 53.1 per 100,000 enrollees.
More economic advantages
Lastly, the best states for veterans provide these residents with better employment opportunities and ease the financial burdens of homeownership.
- Virginia has the highest median income among veterans of any top state at $53,435. Alaska is close behind, with veterans earning a median income of $53,023.
- Vermont and Idaho are the top states with the lowest workforce unemployment rates among veterans, at 2.2% and 2.4% respectively.
- Among the best states, veterans pay the lowest property taxes, dollar for dollar, in Idaho and Wyoming. The median property tax range for vets in both states is $1,200 to $1,299.
These factors add up to better access to favorable financial conditions for veterans that can help them get ahead. Combine these with a robust veteran community and reliable VA services, and itâ€™s clear how these 10 states provide veterans with a leg up in life.
10 worst states for veterans
Then there are the 10 worst states for veterans, where this population has fewer advantages and factors working in their favor. Hereâ€™s a look at the 10 worst states and the factors that pushed them to the bottom of the pack.
- New Jersey and New York have the smallest veterans communities, accounting for less than 6% of each stateâ€™s populations. New Jersey also had the fastest-declining veteran population, shrinking by 3.7% per year.
- Tennessee and Texas had the lowest VA services scores. Texas had the fewest VA facilities per capita among the worst states, at just 11.8 per 100,000 VA enrollees. Meanwhile, Tennessee had some of the lowest VA patient satisfaction ratings.
- New Jersey, Oregon and New York fared the worst among our measures of local veteransâ€™ economic opportunities, but New Jersey was the standout. Of the worst states, New Jersey had the highest unemployment rate among veteran workers at 6.2%. Veterans in New Jersey also faced sky-high property taxes, with a median of $7,000 to $7,999 â€” a full 16% of the stateâ€™s $43,994 annual median income among veterans.
See the table below for a full view of why each of these 10 worst states for veterans earned its unfortunate spot.
Understanding these rankings
To determine which states were best for veterans, we looked at eight metrics broken into three categories:
- Veteran population score. This includes the percentage of the stateâ€™s adult population who are veterans and year-over-year change in the number of veterans, as predicted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This indicates how attractive states are to veterans, and also suggests that the specific needs of veterans are more likely to be considered as a matter of state policy and community priority.
- Veterans Affairs administration score. This includes the number of inpatient, outpatient and VA centers per 100,000 VA enrollees and patient ratings for VA primary care providers and specialist providers. The quality and availability of VA care is a major concern for all Americans, but itâ€™s clear from the data that veterans have very different experiences in different states.
- Economic score. This includes the median income for veterans, the veteran unemployment rates and the median property tax bill for veterans who own their homes. Some state, county and local governments offer special property tax rates, depending on a variety of factors, such as disability or combat status.
See our full rankings
What if your state didnâ€™t rank among the 10 best or worst for veterans? The table below provides the complete rankings and scoring for all 50 states.
How veterans can manage money in post-military life
For veterans, making ends meet isnâ€™t always easy. As a veteran, one of the first places to turn for financial help is your service-related benefits and perks. Take full advantage of the benefits and entitlements you earned through your military service:
- The VA offers comprehensive health care and coverage for veterans.
- Veterans who become disabled in combat are also entitled to additional benefits and assistance.
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial assistance for education and living costs for up to 36 months for veterans enrolled in college or a vocational training or certification program.
- VA loans may help many veterans access an affordable mortgage to purchase a home with little or no down payment.
- Many states also offer benefits to their local veterans, from a tax break on your military retirement income to additional housing assistance for disabled veterans. Check with your stateâ€™s veterans department to see what local benefits are available.
- Many nonprofits provide additional assistance and grants to vets, such as USA Cares, The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Debt can also be a major burden on veterans, with 92.5% of military and veteran families reporting they had debt, according to the Military Family Advisory Network. Here are some tips for veterans to deal with debt.
- Seek out debt assistance programs for veterans. These can offer relief and help to military members and veterans burdened by debt.
- Veterans who can afford to do so can make extra payments to get out of debt faster. This will pay down balances faster, save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest, and shave months or years off of the repayment period.
- Debt consolidation can also be an option to manage debt, especially if you have high-interest debt (credit card balances, for example). Use a new credit account, like a personal loan or a new credit card with a 0% introductory APR, to pay off and replace existing debt. If debt can be consolidated to a lower rate, this can help lower interest to make monthly payments more affordable or help pay off debt faster.
In addition to using veteran benefits and managing debt, veterans can look for other steps to shore up their finances. Saving an emergency fund can be a wise next step, as well as ramping up retirement contributions and improving financial literacy.
Wherever veterans live, they can use this study to see how favorable their state is for their demographic. Short of moving, however, the best thing they can do for their money is to actively manage it and build financial security.
Analysts used data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Census Bureauâ€™s 2017 American Community Survey, available on FactFinder and calculated from microdata hosted by IPUMS.
Metrics were divided into three categories, which were then scored independently as the average of the component scores, which were calculated as a point in relation between the maximum and minimum value among all states. The three category scores were then averaged for a final score. The highest possible score for each metric, category and final score is 100 and the lowest is zero.
The categories and component metrics are:
- Veteran population
- The percentage of the adult population who are veterans
- The projected annual percentage change in the number of veterans
- Veterans Affairs score
- The number of inpatient, outpatient and VA centers per 100,000 VA enrollees
- The average patient ratings of primary care at VA facilities
- The average patient ratings of specialty care at VA facilities
- Veteran economic score
- Median income for veterans
- Unemployment rate for veterans in the workforce
- Median annual property taxes paid by veterans who own homes (range)