Best & Worst States for Military Retirees
People typically view retirement as the end of the line — a time for rest, relaxation and the pursuit of interests long ago put on the back burner. But the story is far different for military retirees who must deal with the trials of reassimilation into civilian life. For starters, the average officer is only 45 years old — 42 for nondisability enlisted personnel — upon retirement from service. Many of those who reenter the job market face tough challenges during the transition while others struggle with more difficult problems, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, disability and homelessness.
As such, military retirement can be a far more complicated issue than one might assume, given the extent to which state tax policies on military benefits vary, the relative friendliness of different job markets toward veterans and other socioeconomic factors. In 2018, the military’s retirement system also changed for new recruits and current personnel who opted in, going from a “defined benefit” to a “Blended Retirement System” that awards funds not just based on years served but also matches contributions to a “Thrift Savings Plan.”
With that in mind, WalletHub sought to help ease the burden on our nation’s military community by comparing 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
‘Economic Environment’ Rank
‘Quality of Life’ Rank
‘Health Care’ Rank
|51||District of Columbia||34.05||49||50||50|
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?
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 (~5.26 Points)
- Tax-Friendliness: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s Tax Rates by State report.
- Share of Veteran-Owned Businesses: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
- Dollars in Defense Department Contracts per Capita: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
- Job Opportunities for Veterans: Triple Weight (~5.26 Points)
- State Authorization for Veterans’ Preference in Private Hiring: Full Weight (~1.75 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.
- Veteran Job Fairs per 100,000 Veterans: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
- Job Growth (2018 vs. 2017): Double Weight (~3.51 Points)
- Military Bases & Installations per 100,000 Veterans: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
- Total VA Expenditure per Number of Veterans: Full Weight (~1.75 Points)
- Presence of State Help for Returning Veterans: Full Weight (~1.75 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 (~1.75 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 (~1.75 Points)
- Cost-of-Living Index: Full Weight (~1.75 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 2019’s College & University Rankings.
- Arts, Leisure & 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
- Number of VA Health Facilities per Number of Veterans*: Full Weight (~3.70 Points)
- Federal, State, Local & Private Hospitals per Capita: Full Weight (~3.70 Points)
- Quality of VA Hospitals: Triple Weight (~11.11 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 (~3.70 Points)
- Mental Health Counselors per Capita: Full Weight (~3.70 Points)
- Veteran Suicide Rate: Full Weight (~3.70 Points)
- Presence of Veteran-Treatment Courts: Full Weight (~3.70 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.
- YouTube (for web embedding National)
- YouTube (for web embedding Virginia)
- Raw files (for editing into clips)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Military Officers Association of America, USAspending.gov, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, MilitaryINSTALLATIONS – U.S. Department of Defense, RecruitMilitary, 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.
Image: flysnowfly / Shutterstock.com
Was this article helpful?