Retirement from the military is a far cry from “normal” retirement. The average retirement age in the U.S. is 65 yet those who’ve retired from the military do so twenty years earlier, with the average retirement age of an officer coming in at age 45 while non-disability enlisted personnel retire even earlier at age 42, on average.
Additionally, re-engaging with civilian life is anything but easy as these new veterans work to find their place in the workforce and in society.
So, when it comes to the best states for military retirees, there are quite a few factors to consider.
WalletHub performed an impressively in-depth analysis of all 50 states based on three key metrics: economic environment, quality of life, and health care, to determine which states are in fact the best for military retirees to live, work as a civilian, and retire in comfort.
Here, we’ll go into the key findings of WalletHub’s analysis while also considering some specific cities where veterans are finding happy retirements. Starting with tax benefits and following up with the best qualities of life and retirement benefits in certain states, if you’re a veteran who’s ready to start a new life somewhere else, this will hopefully help.
Best Tax-Friendly States for Military Retirees
One of the biggest perks of settling into retirement is the tax benefits you’ll receive for a job well done. Well, that’s the idea anyway. In reality, this doesn’t always happen and tax benefits for retired military service members vary greatly between the states.
WalletHub calculated tax friendliness for military retirees as part of their research into the economic environment.
The measurements used to determine the economic environment of states that would benefit veterans include:
- State Tax on Military Pensions
- Tax Friendliness
- Share of Veteran-Owned Businesses
- Dollars in Defense Department Contracts Per Capita
- Job Opportunities for Veterans
- State Authorizations for Veterans’ Preference in Private Hiring
- Veterans Job Fairs per 100,000 Veterans
- Job Growth
- Military Bases and Installations per 100,000 Veterans
- Total VA Expenditure per Number of Veterans
- Presence of State Help for Returning Veterans
- Presence of Academic Credit for Military Service
- House Affordability
- Cost-of-Living Index
Of these factors, some “weighed” more than others. The way they analyzed these numbers meant that not every factor had the same importance. The state tax on military pensions and job opportunities for veterans held triple the weight while job growth held double weight.
Based on how they weighed these factors, it’s obvious that the tax benefits for military retirees are incredibly important. Their findings show that Massachusetts was #1 in terms of the economy and its tax friendliness toward veterans with Alabama and Virginia coming in the second and third spots.
Another set of research from Sperling’s BestPlaces as commissioned by USAA claim that New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas all offer no tax on military retirement funds and combined with other positive attributes of the area is beneficial in terms of taxes for military retirees.
So, as far as the best tax-friendly states for veterans, there are quite a few options. Let’s look at some of the other aspects of a state that make it suitable for military retirees.
Best States for Military Retirees to Live
Just because someone is a veteran and retired from the military doesn’t mean they’re retired in general. It’s almost as if they’ll have two retirements: one from soldier duties and one from civilian duties.
This makes it evident that with 20 years or more of working and participating in the community as your average civilian, finding states for military retirees to live and enjoy a high quality of life is essential.
Going back to the WalletHub research, the measurements used to determine a state’s quality of life for military retirees include:
- Share of Veterans
- Share of Veterans Not Receiving SNAP
- Share of VA Benefits-Administration Facilities per Number of Veterans
- Quality of Public University System
- Arts, Leisure, and Recreation Establishments per Capita
- Share of Population Aged 40 and Older
- Share of Homeless Veterans
- Idealness of Weather
Of these measurements, the share of VA benefits-administration facilities per number of veterans and share of homeless veterans received double weight and arts, leisure, and recreation establishments per capita received half weight when compiling the data.
This makes sense since the research was aiming to focus on the most important factors for quality of life for military retirees without totally discounting the basics when it comes to living well in general.
For the most part, veterans will enjoy a place where they can meet other people who are their own age, they have the opportunity to engage with their civilian and fellow veteran communities, and can enjoy an affable climate.
You’ll also notice that WalletHub took veteran homelessness into account. This is because, unfortunately, many military retirees find themselves homeless after returning to civilian life for a plethora of reasons. The cause could be mental health issues, a high cost of living in their area, or a lack of jobs for their skill set.
According to WalletHub, states with the highest quality of life for military retirees were South Carolina in first place, followed by Florida and Wyoming.
Additionally, the USAA commissioned research found within their data that Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma were on the list of the best options for military retirees to live based on factors like cost-of-living, comfortable climate, quality amenities, and high federal employment.
When it comes to assimilating back into civilian culture, noting the prominent industries within a state can also be an important distinction when military retirees are decided where to settle down. For example, states like Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Wisconsin have a high demand for employees with skills in the government, engineering, medical, and defense – all perfect for those who have just left the military.
Best States for Military Retirees to Retire
Later in life, as military retirees begin to retire from the civilian workforce, the issue of healthcare starts to become more prominent in their lives. That’s not to say that healthcare during every phase of a person’s life isn’t important, it’s just obvious that the process of aging complicates our health more rapidly in most cases.
Therefore, when it comes to settling down in a state in hopes to comfortably retire there one day, it’s important to see how the state holds up in terms of health care.
To measure the quality of health care for military retirees from state to state, WalletHub measured the following factors:
- Number of VA Health Facilities per Number of Veterans
- Federal, State, Local, and Private Hospitals per Capita
- Quality of VA Hospitals
- Physicians per Capita
- Mental Health Counselors per Capita
- Veteran Suicide Rate
- Presence of Veteran-Treatment Courts
Of these measures, the quality of VA hospitals held triple the weight within the study.
It might be startling to see terms like mental health counselors and veteran suicide among these measurements but it’s a sad reality to most veterans and their families learn to face.
Rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide are all significant among military retirees and it’s why these issues are taken very seriously. Living in a state that not only cares for your health on a physical level as you age but also on a mental level after serving in the military can be a make or break situation for many veterans.
The USAA commissioned research found that North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma were all at the top of the list when it came to health care for military retirees.
What States are the Best for Military Retirees?
After compiling all of this information and weighing each factor appropriately based on its importance to the retirement of veterans, the following states are listed as the overall best states for military retirees to live in, find civilian work in, and finally, retire in.
According to WalletHub’s research, Virginia held the number one spot with Florida and Maine coming in second and third, respectively. According to the USAA commissioned research, Oklahoma ranked at the top followed by Virginia and Texas.
With Virginia topping both lists and with a huge military community within the state, it’s safe to say that the best state for military retirees is Virginia.
It should also be noted that the worst states for military retirees seem to be the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Vermont.
WalletHub’s research also found that Republican states tend to be more veteran-friendly than Democratic states which could be part of the reason why some states have legislature to benefit veterans more than others.
When comparing certain aspects of each state side-by-side, certain states have clear advantages. So, if you have unique circumstances, perhaps these statistics can help with your decision.
If you’re looking for a large veteran community, the states with the most veterans per capita are Alaska, Montana, Maine, Virginia, and New Hampshire while the states with the fewest veterans are Utah, California, New Jersey, District of Columbia, and New York.
If you have a lot of health concerns and need reliable VA health care, the states with the most VA health facilities per number of veterans are New York, Wyoming, California, Texas, and Montana while the states with the fewest VA health facilities per number of veterans are Connecticut, Nevada, District of Columbia, Delaware, and Rhode Island.
If you’re struggling with mental health or you don’t have a lot of financial support, you might be worried about homelessness. In this case, the states with the lowest percentage of homeless veterans are North Dakota, Mississippi, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Minnesota while the states with the highest percentage of homeless veterans are Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii, California, and District of Columbia. It should also be mentioned that the discrepancy between the highest and the lowest percentages are a 62 times difference which is outrageous and should be taken into account.
Plus, the states with the most affordable housing are Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, and Ohio while the states with least affordable housing are Massachusetts, District of Columbia, New York, Hawaii, and California.
If you’re in need of a job after retiring from the military, the states with the most job opportunities for veterans are Iowa, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, and Minnesota while the states with the least job opportunities for veterans are Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, and Colorado.
Plus, the states with the highest percentage of veteran-owned businesses who are likely to hire other veterans are South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma while the states with the lowest percentage of veteran-owned businesses are District of Columbia, Michigan, California, New Jersey, and New York.
Overall, everyone is different with their own preferences and needs. It’s important to do research on your own based on your own unique circumstances. If you don’t have many health problems, you might be able to opt for better weather. Conversely, if you don’t mind rainy or cold weather, you can prioritize other benefits of a state like job security and tax friendliness.
By taking a look at each state’s tax benefits for military retirees, quality of life, and health care systems, you can find the best state for you to retire in after your time in the military.