As military personnel retire this year, they will find themselves dropped into another war – the one the U.S. is waging against the coronavirus. COVID-19 has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War did, and has led to government measures similar to that of wartime, such as restrictions on going out and the conversion of factories to make essential supplies. Many of our military retirees will need emotional support as they transition back to civilian life in the midst of the pandemic, but may find opportunities for that support sharply cut back by social distancing. The skyrocketing unemployment rate caused by COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns will also stand as an obstacle to any former military personnel looking to get civilian jobs
Even without a pandemic, retirement from the military is always difficult, with many retirees facing major struggles including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, disability and homelessness. These veterans must also consider how state tax policies on military benefits vary, along with the relative friendliness of different job markets and other socioeconomic factors, when choosing a state in which to settle down.
In order to help ease the burden on our nation’s military community, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their ability to provide a comfortable military retirement. Our analysis uses a data set of 29 key metrics, ranging from veterans per capita to number of VA health facilities to job opportunities for veterans. Read on for our findings, commentary from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.
Best States for Military Retirees
|State||Total Score||‘Economic Environment’ Rank||‘Quality of Life’ Rank||‘Health Care’ Rank|
|51||District of Columbia||38.49||45||50||29|
Red States vs. Blue States
Ask the Experts
Members of the armed forces deserve a comfortable retirement in exchange for their brave sacrifices. But it’s not easy to readjust to civilian life. For insight and advice on overcoming challenges faced by veteran retirees, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts on the following key questions:
- Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?
- What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?
- What should veterans consider in choosing where to retire?
- What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?
- How can the VA health-care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?
- How should the government help the military community?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst states for military retirement, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions: 1) Economic Environment, 2) Quality of Life and 3) Health Care.
We evaluated those dimensions using 29 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for military retirees. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), we measured the “number of veterans” by the square root of the veteran population in order to avoid overcompensating for small differences among states, considering Veterans Administration (VA) facilities have not increased proportionally with the number of veterans.
We then determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Economic Environment – Total Points: 33.33
- State Tax on Military Pension: Triple Weight (~5.56 Points)
- Tax-Friendliness: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
Note: Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Tax Rates by State report.
- Share of Veteran-Owned Businesses: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
- Dollars in Defense Department Contracts per Capita: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
- Job Opportunities for Veterans: Triple Weight (~5.56 Points)
- State Authorization for Veterans’ Preference in Private Hiring: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of a state statute authorizing private employers to implement a veteran-employment preference without vulnerability to claims of discrimination.
- Job Growth (2019 vs. 2018): Double Weight (~3.70 Points)
- Military Bases & Installations per 100,000 Veterans: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
- Total VA Expenditure per Number of Veterans: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
- Presence of State Help for Returning Veterans: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of veteran transition programs & commissions in a state.
- Presence of Academic Credit for Military Service: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of state legislation recognizing the varied skills and knowledge veterans acquire by counting it toward college credit.
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
- Cost-of-Living Index: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
Quality of Life – Total Points: 33.33
- Share of Veterans: Full Weight (~3.17 Points)
- Share of Veterans Not Receiving SNAP: Full Weight (~3.17 Points)
- Share of VA Benefits-Administration Facilities per Number of Veterans*: Double Weight (~6.35 Points)
- Quality of Public University System: Full Weight (~3.17 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub 2020’s College & University Rankings.
- Arts, Entertainment & Recreation Establishments per Capita: Half Weight (~1.59 Points)
- Share of Population Aged 40 & Older: Full Weight (~3.17 Points)
- Share of Homeless Veterans: Double Weight (~6.35 Points)
- Idealness of Weather: Double Weight (~6.35 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Cities with the Best & Worst Weather ranking.
Health Care – Total Points: 33.33
- WalletHub “States Offering the Most Coronavirus Support” Score: Triple Weight (~8.33 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States Offering the Most Coronavirus Support” scores.
- Number of VA Health Facilities per Number of Veterans*: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
- Federal, State, Local & Private Hospitals per Capita: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
- Quality of VA Hospitals: Triple Weight (~8.33 Points)
Note: This composite metric includes:
a) “Patients’ Willingness to Recommend the Veteran Hospitals” score from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Hospital Report Card”
b) VA hospital performance star rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning” (SAIL) performance improvement tool
- Physicians per Capita: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
- Mental Health Counselors per Capita: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
- Veteran Suicide Rate: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
- Presence of Veteran-Treatment Courts: Full Weight (~2.78 Points)
Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of veteran-treatment courts, programs that provide treatment and mentoring services to veterans with mental-health and substance-abuse problems in order to keep them out of the criminal justice system and help stabilize their lives.
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Military Officers Association of America, Military OneSource, USAspending.gov, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Conference of State Legislatures, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Council for Community and Economic Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Indeed and WalletHub research.