When transitioning out of the military, it’s important to rely on more than annual analyses of the best and worst places for veterans to live, according to one retired Marine.
“If you want to leave yourself open to the best opportunities, don’t pick where you want to live first,” said Joe Crane, host of the Veteran on the Move podcast. “Leaving geographical location wide open is a much better option.”
WalletHub’s recently released annual report on the Best and Worst Places for Veterans to Live in the U.S. stated that Tampa, Florida, is the No. 1 spot. Rounding out the top five are Austin; two cities near Phoenix; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
‘Stick That First Landing’
While those cities and the ranking criteria could align with what service members are looking for post-military, Crane said it’s important to identify job prospects first — regardless of location.
The most important step for transitioning service members, according to Crane, is to “stick that first landing.” Finding a good job and becoming financially secure is critical, because the ability to pay bills and take care of one’s family drastically reduces the stress of transitioning to civilian life.
He also said the first location post-military might not be the first choice. But after settling into a new battle rhythm, service members can then focus on more geographically desirable locations for the next move.
Importance of a veteran-friendly city
After identifying potential job opportunities, Crane recommended going back to the WalletHub analysis to learn more about the cities.
“It’s easier to make a decision based on the data and information in the article,” he said, if service members already have leads on a company or job opening.
WalletHub evaluated cities based on 20 metrics in four categories: Employment, Economy, Quality of Life and Health.
Many of the metrics are military- or veteran-specific, such as the population and income growth of veterans, the veteran unemployment rate, the share of military skill-related jobs and VA health care facilities.
“Those things do matter,” Crane said. “You just need to figure out what things are important for your family.”
For some veterans, a military-friendly city is not essential, but Crane said it does make a difference.
“Usually, if there’s military near or in the town, the town understands the military, and that makes things a lot easier,” he said.
Retiring from the military
Crane also noted that military retirees have different factors to consider when choosing their first post-service location, but it depends on whether they plan to continue working or live off of their military retirement.
For retirees pursuing a civilian career, age and level of experience might offer more opportunities for high-paying jobs. But they can also work against veterans if they are deemed “overqualified.”
“It depends on the job market in that particular city,” Crane said.
Another consideration for many retiring service members is whether a state taxes military retirement. This is important, according to Crane, but “not a single issue.”
What about opportunities overseas?
The WalletHub survey covers cities in the United States, but for veterans who enjoyed OCONUS duty stations, returning overseas is a great option to explore.
“Don’t underestimate the amount of opportunity that is available overseas,” Crane said.
Available positions can range from DOD civilian jobs at US bases in Europe to contractor positions in the Middle East. These jobs can help keep elements of military life, and some overseas jobs are quite lucrative.