2014 Best & Worst Cities for Veterans

Article By Dawn Smith
 
In conjunction with November’s Veterans Day observances, two sources have compiled and ranked their versions of the best and worst places for military veterans to relocate or retire. USAA and the personal finance website, WalletHub, have taken various factors of livability and ranked them according to their specific standards. As you will see, there are several overlapping metro areas or cities that rank high on all of the lists, as well as a couple of contradictions.
 
Additionally, Forbes staff writer, Susan Adams, has weighed in on both reports. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured that, in 2013, there were 21.4 million military veterans in the U.S. with many more to follow in upcoming years. This fact means many current service members are considering future relocation plans and researching their next sites to live. MilitaryByOwner has compiled many resources to help with these significant life decisions. In particular, there are informational guides regarding home ownership and financing options. 
 



WalletHub’s Best Cities for Veterans
 
1. Lincoln, Nebraska?
2. Gilbert, Arizona
3. Irvine, California
4. Madison, Wisconsin
5. Boise, Idaho
6. Omaha, Nebraska
7. Chesapeake, Virginia
8. Laredo, Texas
9. Raleigh, North Carolina?
10. Mesa, Arizona
 
WalletHub weighs quality of life issues such as access to VA health care, affordable housing, military related job access, and availability of educational resources. Combined, they use nineteen different factors which are broken into two categories, Economic Wellness and Environment and Education and Health. Finally, with the information gathered, WalletHub ranked the one hundred most populated cities.
 
WalletHub’s Worst Cities for Veterans
Conversely, WalletHub and Forbes issued an interesting take on this subject and listed the worst cities for veterans. From WalletHub’s calculations, these cities do not meet the standards set forth for veterans and their families to thrive. The absence of universities, veteran-owned businesses, or high crime rates are likely contributors to the designation of worst cities for veterans. These are the bottom 10 of the 100 cities listed:
 
91. Baltimore, Maryland
92. Detroit, Michigan
93. Las Vegas, Nevada
94. Fresno, California
95. Cleveland, Ohio
96. Miami, Florida
97. San Bernardino, California
98. Memphis, Tennessee
99. Chicago, Illinois
100. Newark, New Jersey
 
USAA’s Best Places for Veterans 2014
USAA handled their rankings differently. The company has teamed with a Chamber of Commerce Foundation program, Hiring Our Heroes, and Sperling’s Best Places to design three separate "best places" lists which correlate to the length of years served in the military: Starting Out, Mid-Career, and Military Retirement. I think this is a great idea, given the vast differences between someone who has served four to six years versus someone serving close to twenty. Age, education, and family life all are factors that are addressed. USAA also contrasts from WalletHub’s rankings in that they weighed geographical factors such as cities vs. metro areas differently.  
 
Starting Out:
 
1. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2. Austin, Texas
3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
4. San Antonio, Texas
5. St Louis, Missouri
6. Columbus, Ohio
7. State College, Pennsylvania 
8. Cincinnati, Ohio
9. College Station, Texas
10. Minneapolis, Minnesota 
 
Mid-Career:
 
1. Houston, Texas
2. San Antonio, Texas
3. Santa Ana, California
4. Baltimore, Maryland
5. Austin, Texas
6. Bethesda, Maryland
7. Cincinnati, Ohio
8. New York, New York
9. Fort Worth, Texas
10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
 
 
Military Retirement:
 
1. San Antonio, Texas
2. Austin, Texas
3. Madison, Wisconsin
4. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
5. Cincinnati, Ohio
6. Orlando, Florida
7. Wichita, Kansas
8. Gainesville, Florida
9. Albany, New York
10. Nashville, Tennessee
 
The Forbes article focuses on USAA’s Starting Out list for veterans for its analysis of the rankings because eighty percent of veterans terminate their service after four to six years. The article also mentions that, since only five percent of enlisted active duty members hold a bachelor’s degree, USAA computes a larger factor for accessibility of educational opportunities, particularly due to the prolific use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the need for local education outlets.
 
Additionally, cities on the Starting Out list had to meet criteria better than national averages. Susan Adams described the national averages used as such, "The unemployment rate had to be less than one percentage point above the national average, the median cost of living less than ten percentage points above the national average, and the violent crime rate below the top 2% for all metro areas."
 
It is also very interesting to note that, although a city like Baltimore, Maryland, ranks at #4 on USAA’s best place for a mid-career veteran, it is also located at #10 on the worst cities for veterans as told by WalletHub. A similar scenario holds true for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. USAA ranks Pittsburgh as #1 on their Starting Out list due to its growing population and affordable housing prices. WalletHub, however, ranks its further down its list at #11. Pittsburgh is a city that is specifically placing emphasis on hiring veterans, with large corporations such as Aloca, Heinz, and FedEx all actively recruiting veterans.
Other contradictions include the fact that WalletHub ranks USAA’s top picks of Austin and Oklahoma City as #41 and #48 respectively. Differences between the two lists are found in how the importance of homeless veterans, poverty levels of veterans, and veteran-owned business are weighed.  
 
Be sure to read the full articles from USAA, Forbes, and WalletHub to understand calculations and methodology as the companies employed different techniques for tabulation. USAA conveniently breaks down each city’s pertinent demographics, which military installation is closest, and an option to calculate how much money it would take to live in each city on its Best Places lists.  
 
I find that each compilation has facts worth significant consideration for veterans. With these articles as guides in addition to further research on MBO regarding rental and sale prices of homes, veterans can access information that would be crucial for planning a post military career and lifestyle.   
 
Are there other cities that military families past and present feel strongly about that are not represented on these lists?