The best & worst states for US veterans

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Military service is tough and taxing, and many service members hope for an effortless re-entry into a civilian lifestyle.

But where veterans settle down after their service could play a big role in how smooth that transition really is. Even if they’re a couple years (or decades) out from their period of military service, the frequent moves of a military lifestyle means veterans could be less daunted by the prospect of relocating for a better quality of life.

We wanted to identify the best states for veterans, where they are more likely to find better opportunities and outcomes. We surveyed and ranked each city on several factors relevant to U.S. veterans:

  • Veteran population, both currently and in projected changes.
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) administration score, calculated based on the number of VA centers per enrollees in the state and patient ratings of these local VA facilities.
  • Veterans’ economic outcomes, measured by the median income for veterans, unemployment rates for veterans in the workforce and the median annual property taxes for home-owning veterans.

Here’s a look at our findings on the best states for veterans, and the worst.

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Methodology

The best & worst states for US veterans

To determine which states were best for veterans, we looked at eight metrics broken into three categories:

  • Veteran population score. This includes the percentage of the state’s adult population who are veterans and year-over-year change in the number of veterans, as predicted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This indicates how attractive states are to veterans, and also suggests that the specific needs of veterans are more likely to be considered as a matter of state policy and community priority.
  • Veterans Affairs administration score. This includes the number of inpatient, outpatient and VA centers per 100,000 VA enrollees and patient ratings for VA primary care providers and specialist providers. The quality and availability of VA care is a major concern for all Americans, but it’s clear from the data that veterans have very different experiences in different states.
  • Economic score. This includes the median income for veterans, the veteran unemployment rates and the median property tax bill for veterans who own their homes. Some state, county and local governments offer special property tax rates, depending on a variety of factors, such as disability or combat status.

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Strong veteran communities, VA services & economic advantages

The best & worst states for US veterans

The best states for veterans have large veteran communities compared to other states. This is an important factor as the percentage of Americans who are veterans fell from 18% in 1980 to just 7% in 2016, per the Pew Research Center.

High-quality VA services
The top states for veterans also provide a higher quantity and quality of VA health care and services.

More economic advantages
Lastly, the best states for veterans provide these residents with better employment opportunities and ease the financial burdens of homeownership.

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The 20 best states for veterans

The best & worst states for US veterans

The previous factors add up to better access to favorable financial conditions for veterans that can help them get ahead. Combine these with a robust veteran community and reliable VA services, and it’s clear how the following 10 states provide veterans with a leg up in life.

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20. Alabama

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 47.5

VA score: 19.5

Median income for vets: $37,948

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.8%

Image Credit: Roberto Galan / iStock.

19. New Mexico

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 48.5

VA score: 34.3

Median income for vets: $39,031

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.7%

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18. Nebraska

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 48.8

VA score: 46.2

Median income for vets: $40,272

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.9%

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17. West Virginia

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 49

VA score: 50.8

Median income for vets: $33,612

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.3%

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16. Colorado

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 49.2

VA score: 28.5

Median income for vets: $43,987

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.0%

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15. Delaware

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 49.9

VA score: 41.7

Median income for vets: $41,810

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.7%

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14. North Carolina

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 50.1

VA score: 32.3

Median income for vets: $37,729

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.8%

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13. South Carolina

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 51.0

VA score: 29.1

Median income for vets: $37,959

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.5%

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12. Iowa

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 51.4

VA score: 56.0

Median income for vets: $36,545

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.0%

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11. Montana

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 53.1

VA score: 47.7

Median income for vets: $34,905

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.0%

Image Credit: Drazen Zigic / iStock.

10. Kansas

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 53.4

VA score: 52.1

Median income for vets: $38,035

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.0%

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9. Maine

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 55.7

VA score: 64.0

Median income for vets: $36,279

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.4%

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8. South Dakota

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 56.9

VA score: 69.2

Median income for vets: $38,955

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.6%

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7. Vermont

The best & worst states for US veterans

Veterans in Vermont love their VA services more than any other state.

Total score: 57.6

VA score: 91.3

Median income for vets: $36,863

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.2%

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6. Idaho

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 60.4

VA score: 54.5

Median income for vets: $36,863

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.4%

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5. Virginia

The best & worst states for US veterans

Virginia boasts the highest incomes for veterans, most likely due to lucrative Department of Defense contractor opportunities.

Total score: 62.5

VA score: 36.1

Median income for vets: $53,435

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.7%

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4. Alaska

The best & worst states for US veterans

Alaska is the state where you’re most likely to have a vet as a neighbor. Thirteen percent of adults residing in Alaska have served in the Armed Forces, and it’s the only state where the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t expect the veteran population to shrink.

Total score: 66.9

VA score: 52.4

Median income for vets: $53,023

Unemployment rate for vets: 6.5%

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3. Wyoming

The best & worst states for US veterans

Wyoming isn’t a star in any specific category, it performs solidly across the metrics we considered.

Total score: 67.1

VA score: 60.1

Median income for vets: $40,655

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.8%

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2. Hawaii

The best & worst states for US veterans

Economic opportunities for veterans in Hawaii are among the best (and the weather can’t hurt either!).

Total score: 67.7

VA score: 56.5

Median income for vets: $46,599

Unemployment rate for vets: 2.7%

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1. North Dakota

The best & worst states for US veterans

North Dakota takes the top spot with a final score of 67.9, thanks mostly to a deep satisfaction with VA services.

Total score: 67.9

VA score: 89.6

Median income for vets: $42,885

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.7%

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The 20 worst states for veterans

The best & worst states for US veterans

Here’s a look at the 10 worst states and the factors that pushed them to the bottom of the pack.

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20. Georgia

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 43.0

VA score: 14.7

Median income for vets: $39,782

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.2%

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19. Florida

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 42.4

VA score: 38.2

Median income for vets: $36,984

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.0%

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18. Indiana

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 42.4

VA score: 35.4

Median income for vets: $35,981

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.1%

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17. Minnesotta

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 41.7

VA score: 49.7

Median income for vets: $39,626

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.9%

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16. Rhode Island

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 41.4

VA score: 65.7

Median income for vets: $38,163

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.9%

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15. Mississippi

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 41.3

VA score: 26.5

Median income for vets: $33,986

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.0%

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14. Louisiana

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 39.7

VA score: 23.2

Median income for vets: $36,091

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.5%

Image Credit: Roberto Galan / iStock.

13. Ohio

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 39.6

VA score: 43.2

Median income for vets: $35,786

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.2%

Image Credit: Roberto Galan.

12. Connecticut

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 39.3

VA score: 58.9

Median income for vets: $44,394

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.5%

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11. Pennsylvania

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 39.2

VA score: 58.1

Median income for vets: $35,981

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.9%

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10. Massachusetts

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 37.7

VA score: 63.1

Median income for vets: $41,385

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.5%

Image Credit: Christian Horz / iStock.

9. Wisconsin

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 37.4

VA score: 45.3

Median income for vets: $36,137

Unemployment rate for vets: 3.8%

Image Credit: Roberto Galan / iStock.

8. Texas

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 37.3

VA score: 14.9

Median income for vets: $41,903

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.5%

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7. Tennessee

The best & worst states for US veterans

Tennessee and Texas had the lowest VA services scores. Texas had the fewest VA facilities per capita among the worst states, at just 11.8 per 100,000 VA enrollees. Meanwhile, Tennessee had some of the lowest VA patient satisfaction ratings.

Total score: 36.0

VA score: 7.7

Median income for vets: $36,183

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.9%

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6. Michigan

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 33.0

VA score: 38.2

Median income for vets: $36,132

Unemployment rate for vets: 4.4%

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5. Oregon

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 32.0

VA score: 28.0

Median income for vets: $36,197

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.9%

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4. Illinois

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 29.9

VA score: 39.5

Median income for vets: $39,596

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.0%

Image Credit: Roberto Galan / iStock.

3. California

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 29.9

VA score: 32.1

Median income for vets: $43,342

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.2%

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2. New York

The best & worst states for US veterans

Total score: 28.1

VA score: 53.0

Median income for vets: $39,453

Unemployment rate for vets: 5.0%

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1. New Jersey

The best & worst states for US veterans

New Jersey and New York have the smallest veterans communities, accounting for less than 6% of each state’s populations. New Jersey also had the fastest-declining veteran population, shrinking by 3.7% per year.

New Jersey, Oregon and New York fared the worst among our measures of local veterans’ economic opportunities, but New Jersey was the standout. Of the worst states, New Jersey had the highest unemployment rate among veteran workers at 6.2%. Veterans in New Jersey also faced sky-high property taxes, with a median of $7,000 to $7,999 — a full 16% of the state’s $43,994 annual median income among veterans.

Total score: 22.8

VA score: 46.6

Median income for vets: $43,994

Unemployment rate for vets: 6.2%

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How veterans can manage money in post-military life

The best & worst states for US veterans

For veterans, making ends meet isn’t always easy. As a veteran, one of the first places to turn for financial help is your service-related benefits and perks. Take full advantage of the benefits and entitlements you earned through your military service:

  • The VA offers comprehensive health care and coverage for veterans.
  • Veterans who become disabled in combat are also entitled to additional benefits and assistance.
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial assistance for education and living costs for up to 36 months for veterans enrolled in college or a vocational training or certification program.
  • VA loans may help many veterans access an affordable mortgage to purchase a home with little or no down payment.
  • Many states also offer benefits to their local veterans, from a tax break on your military retirement income to additional housing assistance for disabled veterans. Check with your state’s veterans department to see what local benefits are available.
  • Many nonprofits provide additional assistance and grants to vets, such as USA Cares,The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Debt can also be a major burden on veterans, with 92.5% of military and veteran families reporting they had debt, according to the Military Family Advisory Network. Here are some tips for veterans to deal with debt.

  • Seek out debt assistance programs for veterans. These can offer relief and help to military members and veterans burdened by debt.
  • Veterans who can afford to do so can make extra payments to get out of debt faster. This will pay down balances faster, save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest, and shave months or years off of the repayment period.
  • Debt consolidation can also be an option to manage debt, especially if you have high-interest debt (credit card balances, for example). Use a new credit account, like a personal loan or a new credit card with a 0% introductory APR, to pay off and replace existing debt. If debt can be consolidated to a lower rate, this can help lower interest to make monthly payments more affordable or help pay off debt faster.

In addition to using veteran benefits and managing debt, veterans can look for other steps to shore up their finances. Saving an emergency fund can be a wise next step, as well as ramping up retirement contributions and improving financial literacy.

Wherever veterans live, they can use this study to see how favorable their state is for their demographic. Short of moving, however, the best thing they can do for their money is to actively manage it and build financial security.

This article originally appeared on MagnifyMoney.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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