2015’s Best & Worst States for Military Retirees

by John S Kiernan

Wallet Hub Best Worst States for Military RetireesRetirement is typically viewed 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 narrative is far different for military retirees.

For starters, the average officer is only 47.1 years old – and enlisted personnel even younger at 43.2 – upon retirement from service. Most re-enter the job market. Military retirees, veterans in particular, must also deal with the trials of assimilation, which have proven especially difficult in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rising numbers of young vets have encountered hardship and homelessness.

Military retirement is a far more complicated issue than one might initially assume, given the extent to which state tax policies differ when it comes to military benefits, the relative friendliness of different job markets to veterans, and a variety of other important socioeconomic factors.

With that in mind, WalletHub sought to help ease the burden on our nation’s military community by identifying the Best & Worst States for Military Retirees. As a result, WalletHub took 20 key metrics into account in devising its rankings. You can check out the results, our methodology and expert commentary below.

Main Findings


Embed on your website


Overall Rank

State Name

“Economic Environment” Rank

“Quality of Life” Rank

“Health Care” Rank

1 Wyoming 4 7 4
2 Montana 31 12 1
3 South Dakota 7 29 2
4 Maine 19 4 5
5 Florida 16 8 8
6 New Hampshire 12 3 25
7 Alaska 4 6 28
8 North Dakota 8 43 3
9 Oklahoma 6 9 33
10 South Carolina 3 2 43
11 New Mexico 24 32 9
12 Hawaii 27 19 11
13 Iowa 34 14 13
14 Kansas 28 34 6
15 Pennsylvania 33 16 18
16 Texas 10 44 13
17 Missouri 25 15 26
18 Arizona 26 26 22
19 Nebraska 32 25 17
20 Virginia 9 5 49
21 Colorado 19 13 38
22 Maryland 28 11 33
23 Idaho 18 28 30
24 California 49 22 7
25 Wisconsin 36 27 19
26 West Virginia 37 33 12
27 Alabama 1 16 50
28 Georgia 21 30 29
29 Vermont 40 20 23
30 Minnesota 44 22 15
31 Mississippi 2 42 40
32 Kentucky 14 39 32
33 Louisiana 13 37 36
34 Massachusetts 30 49 10
35 Delaware 42 1 41
36 Ohio 23 36 30
37 Tennessee 11 46 33
38 Washington 35 16 36
39 Arkansas 39 30 26
40 Michigan 40 41 21
41 North Carolina 43 24 39
42 Oregon 50 40 24
43 Illinois 46 48 20
44 Connecticut 45 9 48
45 Nevada 15 38 51
46 New Jersey 48 20 44
47 New York 51 45 15
48 Utah 17 47 46
49 District of Columbia 22 51 45
50 Rhode Island 46 34 47
51 Indiana 38 50 42


Red States vs. Blue States


Ask the Experts

Military personnel put their lives on the line to serve their country. And, in return, they deserve to be rewarded with a comfortable retirement for their patriotism. But coming out of the military can sometimes impose challenges on military retirees and veterans. For additional insight and advice with regard to overcoming those challenges, we turned to a panel of military experts. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?
  2. What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?
  3. What should veterans look for in a place to retire?
  4. What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?
  5. How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?
  6. How should the government help the military community?
< >
  • Jay Favuzzi Military & Veterans Services Manager at Columbus State Community College
  • Sherrie L. Wilcox Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families at University of Southern California School of Social Work , and Director of Research and Policy at Blue Star Families
  • Richard V. Meyer Director of the Foreign Master of Laws Program at Mississippi College School of Law
  • Brandon J. Archuleta National Security Fellow in the Clements Center for History, Strategy, & Statecraft at University of Texas at Austin
  • Jason B. Burke Director of Veteran & Military Affairs at Quinnipiac University
  • Ryan R. Brady Associate Professor of Economics at United States Naval Academy
  • Steve Abel Founding Director of Rutgers Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • Rick DeChant Executive Director of Veterans Initiative at Cuyahoga Community College
  • Tedd Weiser Interim Director of Veteran Student Services at Saint Leo University
  • Steve Borden Director of Pat Tillman Veterans Center at Arizona State University
  • Amanda Weinstein Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Akron
  • Rod Powers U.S. Military Expert, About.com

Jay Favuzzi

Military & Veterans Services Manager at Columbus State Community College
Jay Favuzzi
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

For Military Retirees, their retirement pensions should be tax exempt from State and Federal Income Tax. Veterans who are receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs are receiving a tax free benefit. With the All-Volunteer force, only 1% of the U.S. population are serving at any given time. The amount of sacrifice that goes into earning that retirement should entitle those individuals the right to a tax free or tax exempt status on their pension. There are numerous states that offer those benefits, but I would like to see the Federal Government step up to the plate and mandate that across the country for both State and Federal Income Tax.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?
  1. Medical Care: The current TRICARE system makes utilization of Military Treatment Facilities difficult at best. If you live outside the authorized radius, you are not permitted to seek medical care at military treatment facilities. Instead you are required to utilize local providers who may not necessarily be familiar with the bureaucracy of the military medical treatment systems. If treatment is not properly documented, retirees may be paying out of pocket for treatment that is provided at no cost if you live within 45 miles of a Military Treatment Facility. Base Realignment and Closure Committee actions have negatively impacted this benefit for all retirees.
  2. Thrift Savings Plan is not being stressed to the younger personnel. Early in their career it should be part of their education and training in financial planning. The Thrift Savings Plan, properly implemented and utilized, is a key benefit to survival after retirement. It helps to fill the gaps created by the current pension plans that are based upon a percentage of an individual’s active duty pay at the time of retirement.
What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

I live in Ohio and that is probably one of the best states. No tax on retirement.
  1. General atmosphere of the state government: are they military and veteran friendly with their legislation?
  2. Basically retirees and veterans rated at 100% disabled want to be within a reasonable distance of an Active military installation. Active military installations offer Military Medical Treatment Facilities, Commissary and Exchange facilities, entertainment geared towards the military members and retirees plus a variety of Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities. I utilize the Commissary at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located in Fairborn, Ohio. The Commissary is a huge benefit when you have a family. The Wright-Patterson Medical Center provides retirees with specialty and general medical care, immunization and allergy clinics in addition to chiropractic and dental care. MWR facilities available to retirees at Wright-Patterson AFB includes a variety of recreational opportunities.
  3. Veterans want to be close to a good quality Veterans Health Administration hospital for medical care relating to their military service.
  4. Education benefits are a key draw for veterans, military retirees and their dependents. Overall, looking at the laws from the state of Ohio, it is obvious that Ohio cares about its’ veterans. Just recently, Ohio passed and enacted House Bill 488. House Bill 488 was a wide reaching Act that reinforced education benefits at the state level, addressing higher education residency issues and in-state tuition.
  5. Representation at the state level needs to care about their veterans.
  6. Military family benefits. I would not move to the northeast region because they are not a military friendly region. I am not going to get into politics too much but they are not good for service members.
  7. Low property taxes: Ohio is pretty good. If you are 100% disabled, you qualify for Homestead Exemption on your property tax. Military retirees receive discounts on hunting and fishing licenses. If you are a veteran who is rated as 100% disabled you have free licence plates, free hunting and fishing licenses and reduced admission to a variety of entertainment and events in the area.
  8. The State of Ohio has excellent employment opportunity for veterans and military retirees. Ohio Means Jobs has a division that focuses solely on assisting veterans and military retirees with obtaining employment in a civilian career. If a service member joined the military at age 18 and served 20 years, they can retire at age 38 at a reduced pension. They are ready to start their second career.
Why are there so many benefits in Ohio?

Ohio is a patriotic, military loving state that has historically been a huge contributor of military sons and daughters. Back as far as the Civil War they gave their veterans bonus money as a thank you for their service. There were funds allocated by Ohio voters that were divided each year into a one-time retirement bonus. There is also a death gratuity which is paid to the survivors of service members who are killed in action. That is the kind of stuff that the local and state officials take a hard look at, to attract new population to their state and to keep their local talent at home.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

One of the best economic opportunities for a freshly retired military member is the fact that they have educational benefits available to them. Properly utilized education benefits will allow them to take their military experience and management training to a different level for a new, civilian career. Programs that are affiliated with direct placement provide the best opportunity for employment for veterans as they graduate. The Small Business Administration also offers incentives to veterans who wish to become entrepreneurs with their own startup businesses.

Many veterans who own small business tend to become independent contractors for the Department of Defense.

Federal Civil Service, State Civil Service, and local governments give veterans preference when hiring. Veterans are always willing to learn and they have a service-above-self temperament. In addition, the state of Ohio also has a variety of programs that give veterans incentives to become teachers in secondary education.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

There are lots of issues here but I won’t go into all of them.
  1. Wait times are a serious problem! We are not just talking about wait times for appointments. We are also talking about wait times for the processing and awarding of disability claims and resultant compensation. They are addressing these but both have been shamefully neglected in the past and will take a very long time to be corrected.
  2. Processes need to be more streamlined and more veteran focused. During past presidential administrations one of the options discussed was to eliminate the Veterans Health Administration and to privatize those services. If the VA were privatized it would be very different. Initial costs may be higher but through refinement and overall improvements in efficiency, the service to our veterans would be vastly improved. Any time you mix government with customer service, you will have increased wait times.
  3. The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to concentrate on employing veterans. Not just support staff but the providers as well. Veterans understand the issues and challenges of their fellow veterans. They understand the military mind-set. They know how to talk to veterans, what to say and when to say it to get the point across.
  4. Communication problems between departments, offices and providers make taking proper care of the veterans a challenge. It sometimes makes it impossible.
  5. Waiting for disability compensation benefits - they just do not have enough people who are adequately trained and who have the experience needed to do the work effectively and efficiently. Compare that to the IRS.
  6. Veterans who served in Vietnam are still waiting for disability decisions. Ironically enough, veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn are getting far quicker responses that are more accurate.
  7. There are not enough VA personnel to properly care for the number of customers they have.
How should the government help the military community?

The first issue is to stop cutting the compensation for the currently service military, veterans and retirees. In an All-Volunteer Force we cannot afford to make the members of the military feel unappreciated. Convening boards like the Military Compensation and Retirement Commission gives the impression that the well-being of the troops is secondary to the budget and that the sacrifices of the military members and their families are not a priority for some of our elected officials. The lack of benefits not only effects the veteran, it effects their entire family.

After 20 to 30 years of active service, with the high physical demands of multiple deployments and exposures combat, your body is often broken. The children of our veterans see how their family members are being treated. We are losing our next generation of the best and brightest, not because they are not willing to serve but because they are seeing how their loved ones are being forgotten by those who were protected. Freedom is not free.

Sherrie L. Wilcox

Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families at University of Southern California School of Social Work , and Director of Research and Policy at Blue Star Families
Sherrie L. Wilcox
What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

As the spouse of a service member who is retiring in the next month, I think that it is important to find a place where the military family will be able to have a strong support network. For my husband and I, we are moving back home - luckily, we are both from the same place (this isn't the case for some military families).

They should also consider a place that has opportunities for employment, education, and affordable and comfortable housing. I recommend that military families start looking into places and applying for jobs/education as soon as they find out that they are going to retire. The process of getting out of the military is stressful and overwhelming even though both of us found jobs during the transition - I couldn't imagine how much more complicated it would be transitioning somewhere new without at least one person having a new job lined up.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

I think the best opportunities may be where the veteran can use some of the key skills that they learned/used while serving in the military. Retiring military personnel have 16+ years of job experience and have been able to become experts in their job. At the very least, retiring military personnel will most certainly have strong leadership experience. The key will be translating their military-specific skills into civilian language -- this is where some of the community-based organizations can help, as well as the government programs that are required for transitioning military personnel.

I would also encourage transitioning military personnel to make connections with their peers who have recently transitioned -- what tips can their peers provide on getting a job, can their peers help them get a job, etc. -- networking can be an effective tool for finding employment.

How should the government help the military community?

Military service members, veterans, and military family members all face challenges during transitions.

The transitions that military families experience can challenge the marital relationship. Some of my recent research shows that transitioning military populations can experience problems with the intimate relationships. Unfortunately, sexual functioning problems that may result from transitions are generally not covered by insurance. This is certainly an area that needs further investigation as a large number of military populations are reporting these types of problems, but are unable to receive needed treatment.

Richard V. Meyer

Director of the Foreign Master of Laws Program at Mississippi College School of Law
Richard V. Meyer
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

I think you need to separate this out into State and Federal taxes. Military retirement pay is a bit unique in that it is actually closer to salary than a true pension. To justify benefits to individuals well short of retirement age (some have retired as early as 37 years old), military retirees are still DoD assets. We can be called back to active duty and are still technically subject to the UCMJ because we are receiving military pay. Since the federal government taxes military pay for active duty soldiers, it seems consistent for military retiree pay to also be subject to federal income tax.

Many states, however, to incentivize military service, do not tax military pay, and even more do not tax military retirement.

Unlike other retirement benefits, I do not view this through the lens of fairness, duty or propriety. Instead, this question should be market driven. If we are not able to recruit or retain excellent soldiers, that tax breaks may be necessary.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

First, many folks focus on medical benefits gained by retiring close to a military base and forget the legal benefits. Retirees (and spouses and dependent children) are eligible for free legal advice from active duty military and civilian lawyers. For example, they can get free wills drafted by a licensed attorney.

Second, I think many retirees misuse their education benefits. They expend the benefit to receive a low stress online degree that has a reduced chance of significantly increasing their future earning potential. Under the Yellow Ribbon Program, they or their children could use these same funds to attend some of the most respected schools in the country free of charge.

Third, I think many retirees fail to file for disability benefits because of the incredible amount of administrative red tape and the limited benefit. (Small disability percentages only covert that percentage of your military retirement pay to bring tax free.)

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

Living near a large military base is a huge perk for retirees. In addition to the medical and legal benefits I already mentioned, they have access to the commissary, and PX for tax free and reduced cost purchases as well as the full array of recreational facilities maintained for the active troops. These include lost cost movie theaters, bowling alleys, woodworking shops, automotive shops, boat and outdoor equipment rentals, reduced price tickets to theme parks, and much more. If you live near an active airbase you can fly on a space available basis to a other military bases around the world.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

Unlike other professions, the skills and attributes developed by the military prepare soldiers for a wide array of other careers. Leadership, communication skills, loyalty, attention to detail, integrity and courage are commonplace attributes within the military community, not to mention selfless service. However, these are more rare and therefor more sought after in the civilian business world. For example, many law schools have looked for military lawyers to serve as Deans because they have the courage, confidence and integrity to stay focused on what is best for the school.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

We need to change our attitude towards evaluating veterans. Currently we put 99 deserving claims through a prolonged hoop jumping bureaucratic process just so we can catch and deny the one undeserving claim. Instead, with military retirees, we should be willing to risk paying multiple undeserving claims rather than risk denying or needlessly delaying one deserving claim. Unlike a typical social security disability claimant, every single military retiree has a proven record of integrity and selfless service to the government. They should be granted the benefit of the doubt; the claims process needs to be abbreviated and sped up.

How should the government help the military community?

First, stay focused on people over technology. Our greatest strategic advantage is our soldiers, not our equipment. As one Special Forces NCO tasked with training foreign militaries told me, "Most of the world plays at being good soldiers... We work at it." I am not talking about pay raises so much as a focus on quality education and training. I was lucky enough to be sent for additional degrees twice on my career. Most have to do their education in their limited free time or wait till they get out. We should expand the civilian education of the military. This improves our military and also brings our soldiers closer to their peer college students who largely do not understand them. I cannot count how many times students at Columbia Law would approach me when I was studying there to say they had a totally different view of soldiers as Martinets, idiots or bloodthirsty, prior to meeting me. They thought I was unique... I told them I was just like all the rest.

This leads me to my second and far more controversial point… We need to bring back the draft. Right now, the military is not a fair representation of the public we protect. I read once that in 1977 there were 7 officers in the military that were registered republican for every 5 that registered Democrat and that by 1996 it had altered to 24 republicans for every one Democrat. During the Reagan, Bush and Clinton years, being in the military became synonymous with being politically conservative in the public discourse and this became a self-fulfilling prophecy because of its effect on recruiting. I am more on the conservative side but my two best military leaders were staunch liberals and I saw what they brought to the table and the military needs more of that.

Further, as we often say, we are an Army that has been at war since 2001... not a nation. The all-volunteer military allows the general public to largely ignore the go to war decisions, since "... Only those who want to be there have to fight." The draft would bring the entire public back into the conversation. It is quite telling that we have had troops in harm’s way for 14 years and yet for most of those years, the ongoing war did not make the top 5-10 political issues in any election.

Brandon J. Archuleta

National Security Fellow in the Clements Center for History, Strategy, & Statecraft at University of Texas at Austin
Brandon J. Archuleta
What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

The three things I would encourage veterans to consider when retiring are family and lifestyle, employment opportunities, and tax environment. Beyond the dollars and cents of choosing a place to retire, veterans might first consider family preference and lifestyle. For many veterans, choosing a place to retire might be the first location decision they've made without Uncle Sam's input in over 20 years. Spouses, partners, and children often sacrifice a great deal to follow their service member around the world. So their preferences matter and should be taken into serious consideration where appropriate. In terms of lifestyle, retirees have to ask whether they are looking for an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Each setting has factors to consider, especially with regard to home value, property size, and social life.

Many veterans retire without a clear sense of what life's next adventure will be. That's why veterans ought to also consider their potential for employment when choosing a place to retire. Certainly, sprawling metropolitan areas will offer a different set of employment options than suburban communities and rural areas. The current military retirement system is understandably generous in comparison to other industries' standards. So with proper financial planning, veterans can leverage their pension and TRICARE for Life health care to give them time to find the right job, not necessarily the first job that comes along.

Finally, all things being equal, veterans might also consider the tax environment and cost of living for their retirement locations. I would never recommend someone avoid a place with good jobs and a great lifestyle simply because the State in question taxes a veteran's military retirement earnings. But if the veteran is especially sensitive to State taxes and hopes to stretch his or her dollars on a fixed income over the long term, State income taxes on military pensions and cost of living should factor in to any retirement decision.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

Caring for veterans over the long term reveals the true costs of war. A major issue area for the VA - the nation's second largest bureaucracy - is transition of care. Transitioning from the military's TRICARE health system to the VA's health care system can be quite difficult and often involves duplicate services, screenings, and appointments. One recent manifestation of this challenge involves prescription restrictions for certain anti-depressant / anti-psychosis medications. In other words, a transitioning service member suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress may not be able to receive the same medications from the VA that he or she received from DOD. Doctors at the VA have their hands tied. General (Ret.) Pete Chiarelli has taken up this cause and testified before Congress urging change. In recent years, DOD and VA have opened liaison offices of sorts to facilitate this inter-agency cooperation. But there is more work to do.

Jason B. Burke

Director of Veteran & Military Affairs at Quinnipiac University
Jason B. Burke
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

I would like to say “No” since I am a retired Navy Officer, but I think the pay should only be taxed at the federal level and not at the state level.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

Many of the retirement benefits are similar to what’s available to veterans that did not serve long enough to retire (expect for the obvious retirement pension and health care). I would say the Veteran’s Pension - that helps lower income veterans and their families, to include a widowed spouse with additional income. There is also the Aid and Assistance Program that provides in-home care funds to support elderly or disabled veterans and widowed spouses.

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

First, it should be a place they want to live and work. If they are truly retiring from the workforce, they should consider a state that does not tax retirement pay. Overseas is an option as well.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

Continued government service would be optimal based on accruing additional service-time as well as salary not off-setting your retirement pay. I know of civilian companies that may low-ball a potential new hire based on their retirement pay income. It’s not ethical, but it happens.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

Increase the VA facilities nationwide, update existing VA Health Centers in concentration areas to accommodate the population, and hire qualified additional personnel.

How should the government help the military community?

There should be a law that requires a percentage of the government officials at the SES level and higher (elected officials) to have served in the military (Active or Reserve).

Ryan R. Brady

Associate Professor of Economics at United States Naval Academy
Ryan R. Brady
How should the government help the military community?

Overall, I am in favor of many of the recommendations put forth this past November from RAND. In particular, I think is a real shame that up to this point active duty members do not receive agency matching contributions to their 401K. While the RAND report emphasizes the long-term "cost" savings of switching to a more traditional IRA format (in place of the current military pension system), I think the Department of Defense should provide matching contributions for more "social-economic" reasons. I should add, too, that even if there is no change to the rest of the pension system (as advocated by the RAND study), I still think the DOD should offer agency matching contributions.

The bulk of the active duty force are very young men and women, whom typically enlist around age 18 or soon thereafter. Yet being young by and large they do not save money, and they are less likely to save for retirement. Agency matching would be a tremendous benefit to these young people -- young people who would otherwise not have any savings and aside from the GI Bill (which is a great benefit of course) do not receive long term financial benefits from their service.

As the Rand study notes, only 14 percent of the young enlisted ranks serve long enough to receive a military pension. In other words, many of these kids get out of the military when they are in the mid-20s, and what do they have to show for it? Do they have savings? Not likely. Are they financially literate? That is questionable. It is a well-known issue in the military that many among the enlisted ranks run into financial trouble (it is well documented, for example, that Pay Day lenders have long been like locusts around military bases).

Agency matching would be good social policy in the spirit of the idea of "nudging" young kids towards building retirement savings ("nudge" being the idea from economist Richard Thaler).

As it stands, without agency matching there is low incentive for active duty members to contribute to their TSP. Especially for younger people reducing ones adjusted gross income come tax time with TSP contributions is not a huge incentive. Even the Officers-to-be here at USNA tell me they feel little incentive to contribute to their TSP since there is no matching.

All of this is unfortunate especially for the enlisted ranks. Now, in a laissez faire world shouldn’t these young people be responsible for their own savings choices? Perhaps, but it is pretty clear, as I'm sure you would agree, that young people in their 20s do not always make good decisions, especially when it comes to long term planning.

To me, agency matching makes good social policy. Not only as a form of a long term "thank you" for their service, but also as a way to redress what is a real issue in our country, the fact that many Americans are chronically under-funded for retirement. And the latter is especially true for the 40 percent or so of the workforce that do not have a college degree, a situation which many young men and women find themselves in when they discharge from the military.

Steve Abel

Founding Director of Rutgers Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Steve Abel
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

My initial thought was yes. However, given recent comments by some members of the executive and legislative branches of the government who talk about balancing the budget by reducing the benefits (including pay, retirement, and other benefits) and increasing fees (co-payments for TRICARE), it seems to me exempting retirees from federal income taxes would be appropriate. I would note that Pennsylvania has for many years appreciated the service and sacrifices our service members make. I am a resident of Pennsylvania and have not paid PA income tax on my military pay while on Active Duty or my military retirement pay.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

I think the ability to fly space available in military aircraft is probably the most underutilized benefit. Many retirees do not live close to a military installation so the services offered on post/base/station are lost to these individuals.

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

I believe there are three things to be considered: employment opportunities (it is unlikely a service member will be able to live off of his or her retirement pay, the proximity to a military installation that is able to offer retirees services (some installations based in staffing are not able to do so), and the cost of living in the area.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

Well, first of all, it has been my experience that many veterans in general undervalue the talents they have from their service to the nation. Companies are looking for leaders/managers with integrity, initiative, solid work ethic / habits and are willing to compensate based on these values. Finance, IT, HR appear to me to be solid areas...but management / leadership positions across a broader range of career fields work.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

I'm pleased with the VAs move to greater access to non-VA health care via their PCCC program (for those living outside a 40 mile radius of a VA facility, where wait times are long, where specialty treatment is not available). I would like to see even more access for retirees to local doctors and treatment.

How should the government help the military community?

I believe our current members of both the executive and legislative branches of our government well should remember the words of George Washington: "...future generations will serve based on how we care for our veterans..." When we ask out nation’s most valuable treasure to sign a blank check to the nation and go into harm’s way on behalf of all of us, we must live up to the promises we made to them in the way that Abraham Lincoln admonished us to do so when he said: "...To care for him [or her] who shall have borne the battle and for his widow [or widower] and his [or her] orphan..."

Rick DeChant

Executive Director of Veterans Initiative at Cuyahoga Community College
Rick DeChant
What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

One I have gotten more and more inquiries about in recent years is the Aid & Attendance Benefit. Most older veterans don’t give this benefit a look until the need for home care is upon them. They need to be applying now (as there is a review and qualification process for the program) and not wait until the need is immediate.

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

A community that is “vet friendly” and where resources are easily accessible to veterans. Here in Northeast Ohio, the service model is shifting to one where entities like the VA and the County Veterans Service Commission are taking their services out into the community to the veterans versus making the veterans come to them.

Here at the Cuyahoga Community College, the “one stop” model is one we have implemented. We have four veterans service offices at our four major campuses. Folks stopping in can not only get information and counsel about educational opportunities for the military and their families, but, in many instances, we have those outside agencies at the offices for a day to assist with additional needs.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

If they are willing to invest in some retraining, new workforce opportunities such as advanced manufacturing, health care, and IT communications. The veterans program at Cuyahoga Community College works with the College’s Workforce and Economic Development Division to get veterans the training, certification and degrees needed to enter those fields.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

Continuing to do what it is done here in Northeast Ohio… taking services out into the community. The College recently opened the Alfred Lerner Veterans Services Center at its Eastern Campus in Highland Hills to provide an enhanced venue for programs and services for veterans and their families.

Expanding key services such as family counseling; just as the vets serve, so do their families.

How should the government help the military community?

Making sure that when it’s planning to engage our military personnel in hostile operations, that as part of the budget planning, there is a line item that addresses the care of those personnel and their families when they return home.

Tedd Weiser

Interim Director of Veteran Student Services at Saint Leo University
Tedd Weiser
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

Absolutely! While the current retirement program for veterans is very attractive on paper and in conversation for recruiters, the pittance of income derived from it is despicable based solely on what we as a country ask these brave men and women to do each and every day in harm’s way. And with the Military Compensation and Retirement Commission making proposed changes to overhaul the current program, it appears as if things can only go from bad to worse. The tax burden that would result from removing retiree’s income form the tax rolls is a fraction in comparison to the other changes which can be made to the tax code.

If we want to look at reducing spending, let’s instead turn our sites on the retirement packages of members of congress, who often blindly and ignorantly make decisions that affect the lives of our service members and their families. I for one would like to see the math on that comparison.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

According to numerous sources, including the VA itself, the Aid and Attendance benefit is the most widely underutilized benefit. It is intended to assist older and/or disabled benefits “who may not be able to take care of themselves” (Veterans Administration). It provides an increase to the monthly pension to assist these veterans with a tax free stipend and can be used in conjunction with Medicaid. It seems that this benefit would be of great assistance to the high number of disabled veterans returning home from the most recent conflicts, let alone our Vietnam and Korea veterans.

Steve Borden

Director of Pat Tillman Veterans Center at Arizona State University
Steve Borden
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

Pay is pay. I have no issue with states (or federal government) taxing retirement pay. I have strong feelings that our tax system needs reform, but if we have an income tax, then income should be taxed.

There are some states where this is not taxed. I would not choose one of those states solely based upon that, there are a lot of other quality of life issues that are more important. Taxes fit in with overall discussion of cost of living for that state/location.

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

Probably Space “A” travel – but it is hard to count on it. You really need to be retired, not working on a second career.

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

I don’t believe that veterans have any additional concerns in this area than any other retiree. Location, family, cost of living, access to your medical system, employment (for those seeking to continue working), weather (especially for those with certain medical conditions), other quality of life items of impact (senior sports/activities, professional sport teams, community, theater, music, etc.). Veterans are retirees from the military profession. Do we ever ask what a retiree is looking for after a career with IBM, Ford, GM, a career in the tech field, teaching, faculty, politics or other profession? The fact we are asking this question means that veterans are a “special” needs subset of our population, like maybe they are “broken.”

Veterans are retired people - treat them that way. (Many of them don’t want to be treated that way and they are victimizing themselves.)

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

The best opportunity for a retired person is to follow their passion. With a military retirement income, veterans should really take the opportunity to do what they want to do. For those that want to chase the dollars, let them.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

I’m not sure it can be fixed. Maybe is should be scrapped completely, or nearly so. If veterans had access to health care that met their needs, especially or specifically their needs that were service connected, it does not matter where that care comes from. The VA system was established because veterans were not able to get that care elsewhere. Today, with the medical capacity we have in this country I am not certain we need the VA Health System looking anything close to the way it does. I am actually more concerned about the fact that the VA does not work and it is probably the best, certainly the largest, example of where we have a government provided health care system. Why are we looking to get the government MORE involved in health care when we have the VA as an example of how a government-run system works? Access to care is the key.

The VA could choose (or our government could have the VA limited to) providing care and research in areas that are “veteran specific or intensive” only. All care that is common to non-veterans could be provided via access to non-veteran/non-military sources.

How should the government help the military community?

This is an extremely broad question. Are we talking about veterans or about the military community? We have an all-volunteer force today. Providing opportunity to those serving, and how we care for them after they serve, will play a huge role in whether we can sustain an all-volunteer force. Asking this question pre-supposes that government is the answer, when at best it is only a part of the answer. Society needs to play a role, corporate America needs to play a role and family and friends need to play a role (and not necessarily in that order).

The vast majority of people that serve leave the service with no major issue that keeps them from leading a productive life – a life in which they continue to contribute to society and take care of themselves. They are not victims. There are challenges in moving from the military community to civilian life – the two life-styles are very different. We need to provide the right tools, training and access to services to make it possible for people to find entry back into civilian society. The veteran is not broken and is not a victim. They are being exposed (voluntarily or involuntarily) to a radical change of culture and entering into a lifestyle where they do not know what “normal” is, means or looks like. We need to help them find out where normal is and what that looks like for them – from there they will take care of themselves.

We need to make sure that we don’t support our troops and veterans in such a way that we make them dependent upon the government. Appropriate compensation for the life-style (moving, children changing schools, spouses having to re-start careers/find new employment, etc.) is vital, otherwise people will not stay in the service. Certain aspects of service are very risky. People get hurt and deal with chronic medical issues for the rest of their lives in certain cases – we need to make sure we take excellent care of these individuals. However, “life” also happens to people while they are serving.

For instance, say I am playing at a recreational soccer game in my community and break a leg. Yes, this might have happened while I was serving in the military and complications could even lead to ending my military service. But why should the government be any more liable for my long-term issues related to that injury than say, Google or Apple should be if I were employed by them? It is very frustrating to see veterans trying to “game” an entitlement and benefit system and even infuriating when we find that there are veteran service organizations that are trying to help them “game” the system.

The government can best help the military community by ensuring we compensate people adequately. Compensation needs to be sufficient to sustain an all-volunteer force that meets our national defense needs. We need to be committed to helping those individuals that we hurt/break and we absolutely must make sure we provide assistance for families of our service members that pay the ultimate sacrifice (and this happens in conflict as well as peace time, training for conflict). We need to stop recruiting or advertising military service in such a way (and stop allowing service members transitioning out of the service in a way) that builds a mentality that “because I volunteered to serve, you owe me (fill in the blank).”

Let’s thank our troops, but don’t cripple them.

Amanda Weinstein

Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Akron
Amanda Weinstein
What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

My research suggests veterans looking for jobs do particularly well in large metropolitan areas. If veterans are looking to start a new career, they should be more concerned about the quality of the local economic climate and the quality of the job than simply looking for a nice place to live.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

Veterans looking for a new career after the military seem to do best if they can capitalize on their military skills and experience in the labor force. There are clear benefits in continuing their career in the military as a civilian and also in government jobs in general. This also allows veterans to continue to serve their country in a different capacity. Veterans seem to earn higher wages compared to civilians in cities that are more likely to understand and appreciate the specific skill set veterans can bring to the table, specifically cities with a stronger military presence.

How should the government help the military community?

Governments looking to help veterans continue their career after the military should help veterans translate their skills and experiences into the civilian labor force.

Rod Powers

U.S. Military Expert, About.com
Rod Powers
Should veterans have to pay taxes on retirement pay?

To be clear, this response is about those retired from the military, and not veterans in general.

According my notes, a military pension is technically a "reduced compensation for reduced services", and the Internal Revenue Service Code 26 C.F.R. S 31. 3401 (a)-1(b) (1) (ii) states that military retired pay is a Current Wage - Public law recognizes it as "pay", earned daily, paid monthly (the first payment for retired pay normally will arrive 30 days after the individual is released from active duty), and is not based on a deferred income, nor is it pay for past services rendered. (This position has been taken not only by the IRS, but also the Comptroller General, the Department of Defense, and U.S. Bankruptcy courts - that military retired pay is a reduced compensation for reduced services, with no attributes of a pension.)

On the federal level, individuals receiving Military Retired Pay, pay Federal Income Tax [they do not, however, pay Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax]. On the state Level, some states impose a tax on retired military pay. There may also be instances of city income taxes...

Now, should retired military personnel pay these taxes - why not? The taxes go towards such things as national security, law enforcement, and immigration (among other things) on the federal level, education and health services on a state level - all things that are still as relevant to the military retiree as to the civilian. Speaking only for myself as a retired military serviceman, I have no issue with that tax against my wages (though to be fair, I live in a state that has no income tax).

What are the most underutilized military retirement benefits?

My impression is that - because not all military retiree's move to a location where there is ready access to a base - the ability to shop at the Commissary and Exchange, though in the case of the Exchange system, retirees can use the online site.

In case you are unfamiliar, the exchanges are the military’s version of department stores - to the soldiers it's the PX (for post exchange), to the airmen it's the BX (base exchange), to the sailors it's the NEX (Navy Exchange, though on ship it's simply the ship’s store) to the Marines it's the MCX (Marine Corps Exchange); and to the Coast Guard it’s the CGX (Coast Guard Exchange).

What should veterans look for in a place to retire?

Pretty much the same sort of things that a civilian looks for in a place to retire - each individual has their own requirements. Of course, there is the difference that when most military service members initially retire, they are young enough to start a second career (I think the "average" age is listed as early to mid 40's for a 20-year retiree), so that weighs in a bit. Most people retiring from the military services after 20 years are not really able to live on military retirement pay - doing so depends upon many factors such as having a mortgage, credit card debt, a car loan, and any other regular payments (such as child support or alimony). Not many people retire from the service debt-free.

What are the best economic opportunities for retired military personnel looking for a new career?

Keeping in mind the previous question, I think that "best" depends upon whether or not the individual needs to work. My Lead Host (Patrick Long, uses the handle "Exidor") in the US Military Message Forum retired from the Navy back in 2004, and to date has not had to seek part or full-time employment.

How can the VA health care system be improved to better serve veterans and their families?

Ah, tricky question. How tricky? Because not every VA facility has such issues as has been in the news. I've not run into massive waiting issues as have been in the national spotlight, and I recall that Patrick stated he'd been quickly seen in his area when he uses the VA Medical Clinic. This isn't to say there aren't issues that need addressed - only that I've not run into those issues on a personal level.

How should the government help the military community?

I'm not certain as to where this question is aimed - the government (Federal and State level) helps the military community in many ways.

You may find out more from the following initiatives: Strengthening Our Military Families and Military Community and Family Policy.


Bearing in mind the needs and benefits unique to former military personnel, WalletHub sought to supplement standard retirement-attractiveness metrics, such as housing costs, income taxes and access to leisure activities, with a variety of additional measures. We ultimately identified 20 key metrics, which collectively speak to the differences between each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of their overall attractiveness to military retirees. You can find them below, along with the corresponding weights that we used to construct the rankings.

Economic Environment – Total Weight: 5

  • State Tax on Military Pension: Full Weight
  • WalletHub Taxpayer Ranking: Full Weight
  • Veteran-Owned Businesses per 1,000 Inhabitants: Full Weight
  • Dollars in Defense Department Contracts per 100 Residents: Full Weight
  • Job Opportunities for Veterans: Full Weight
  • Number of Military Bases & Installations per 100,000 Veterans: Full Weight
  • Housing Affordability: Full Weight
  • Cost of Living Index: Full Weight

Quality of Life – Total Weight: 5

  • Number of Veterans per 100 Inhabitants: Full Weight
  • Number of VA Benefits Administration Facilities per Number* of Veterans: Full Weight
  • University System Score: Full Weight
  • Arts, Leisure & Recreation Establishments per 100,000 Inhabitants: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Population Aged 40 & Older: Full Weight
  • Number of Homeless Veterans per Number of Veterans: Full Weight
  • WalletHub Weather Ranking: Full Weight

Health Care – Total Weight: 5

  • Number of VA Health Facilities per Number* of Veterans: Double Weight
  • Number of Federal, State & Local Hospitals per 100,000 Inhabitants: Full Weight
  • Number of Physicians per 1,000 Inhabitants: Full Weight
  • “Patients’ Willingness to Recommend the Veteran Hospitals” Score (Used as a Proxy for the Quality of VA Health Facilities): Full Weight
  • Emotional Health: Full Weight

*For the number of veterans, we used the square root in order to avoid overcompensating for small differences.

Source: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Tax Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, Transparency.gov, Indeed.com, the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. News & World Report, Gallup Healthways, the Department of Defense, Missouri Economic Research & Information Center and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


John Kiernan is Senior Writer & Editor at Evolution Finance. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a BA in Journalism, a minor in Sport Commerce & Culture,…
1610 Wallet Points


By: 11B4P
May 28, 2015
What a great many retirees also recognize, is that there are those who have retired from one career only to aspire to another, hence the desire to work for the Fed or State/Local governments, or contractor to the same. But those who are bona fide retirees may have much different desires. Peace and quiet and affordable living, good healthcare, and an absence of blood-sucking parasite, whether that be mosquitos/black flie and liberals, all the same read more
Reply Delete Flag
By: HeloShark
Sep 28, 2014
I like the fact that you have a methodology developed for your assessment. With your methodology, the State of Maryland gets a ranking of 18. If you live in Maryland, however, it feels more like 42. The taxes here are some of the highest in the country, as is the cost of housing and overall cost of living. For those and other reasons, a great many veterans leave the state of Maryland when they do read more
Reply Delete Flag
Aug 26, 2014
This article is seriously flawed. Example you list California as 51. California offers some excellent veterans benefits that drastically increase the veterans quality of life and income. Example 100% FREE tuition at any state school for all dependents of a service member with a 0% disability rating or higher saving veterans thousands upon thousands of dollars. They have special CalVet home loans for farms and rural purchases, property tax exemptions for qualifying vets, free vehicle read more
Aug 26, 2014
@bobandcathy_villa: What do you get in the #1 state of Wyoming, hmmm a free fishing license.
Reply Delete Flag
By: Sfc_mac
Sep 6, 2014
@bobandcathy_villa: I'm a retired vet and I would never live in California. Between all the illegal aliens, gangs, sky-high taxes, debt, crime, DemProgs, leftwing contaminated "education", jackbooted anti-Second Amendment nuts, and to top it off, Governor Moonbeam, it's not a place I would ever visit let alone live. Business are leaving in droves and no one can blame them. It's a cesspool of socialist idiocy. I don't live in Wyoming, but I have been there read more
Reply Delete Flag
By: 11B4P
May 28, 2015
@Bobandcathy_villa: The greatest flaw to any methodology is to think that parasitic social programs are a boon to the retiree. The obverse of that coin is WHO must pay for it? As SF_mac states below, living in a debt-ridden state such as California, or Illinois or NY, is just waiting for the monetary shoe to drop. Someday debts must be paid, and they will take away a Vet's money faster than you can say Iwo read more
Reply Delete Flag
Aug 24, 2014
This is a great analysis of some important factors for military retirees. However, each individual's needs are different and there are intangibles particular to each person that cannot be included in a summary analysis such as this. I am a military retiree and my girlfriend is about to retire, too. Would it be possible to get the data set so we can adjust to our particular situation?
Reply Delete Flag