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The process of readjusting to civilian life can be difficult for many veterans. One survey from Pew Research Center found that 27% of veterans said they had a difficult time reacclimating to civilian life. It can be difficult for veterans to find work, rebuild support structures and start a new life, especially for those experiencing PTSD.

But veterans may find it easier to transition to civilian life in some states than in others. Some states may have more welcoming environments for veterans in terms of a robust local veteran presence, existing Veterans Affairs support structures and better economic prospects. SmartAsset took a look at which states are the best for veterans.

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Study Specifics

In order to come up with our ranking, we looked at data for all 50 states across seven metrics. We considered the percentage of the population who are veterans, the unemployment rate for veterans, veterans’ median income after housing as well as the percentage of veterans whose income would place them under the poverty threshold. We also looked at the veteran business ownership rate, the number of Veterans Affairs facilities per 10,000 veterans and the percentage of veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration. Read more about how we created our ranking in the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • Alaska is the veteran state – Alaska has the highest percentage of veterans of any state. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5% of the total population in Alaska are veterans. To put that into perspective, that means about one in every eight people in Alaska is a vet.
  • The Great Plains are great for veterans – Five of the states in our top 10 are in the Great Plains. These are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana.
  • Veteran unemployment is on the decline – In 2015, veteran unemployment rates hit a seven-year low. In 33 states, veterans have a lower unemployment rate as compared to non-veterans. This may be a reflection of the success of recent programs and initiatives meant to help veterans get into the workforce.

Best States for Veterans

1. Alaska

The Last Frontier is the best state for veterans, according to our data. There are nine military bases in Alaska, which is one reason for the large number of veterans in the state. Alaska veterans are also doing well economically speaking. Veterans there have a median income of $36,831 after housing costs. Plus, only 4.3% of veterans are unemployed in Alaska, which is 2% better than the state’s unemployment rate for non-veterans.

2. South Dakota

Not only is South Dakota a great state for homeowners, it’s also the second best state for veterans. South Dakota does a good job at supporting its veterans. It has the highest rate of veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration in the country (almost 70%), as well as the second-most veteran facilities per 10,000 vets.

3. Wyoming

Wyoming claims the third spot in our ranking of the best places for veterans. Like South Dakota, Wyoming offers veterans one of the strongest support networks in the country. Wyoming has 4.23 VA facilities per 10,000 vets (the most in the country) and the sixth-highest percentage of veterans enrolled in the VHA (58.7%).

4. Nebraska

Of all the states in the country, Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate for veterans. According to our data, Nebraska veterans have an enviable 1.9% unemployment rate. This is in stark constrast to the state’s unemployment rate for non-veterans, which is 7.9%. The Cornhusker State also has one of the lowest rates of veteran poverty in the nation at 4.5%.

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5. North Dakota

North Dakota has the lowest percentage of veterans in our top 10. Only 8.2% of the state’s population are vets. But veterans there are doing quite well financially. North Dakota vets take home a median annual income of $45,810. After taking out housing costs, those veterans are left with $36,543 on average – the third highest income in the country.

6. Maine

One statistic that Maine can be proud of is that 10.5% of all private businesses in the state are owned by veterans. Maine also boasts a high percentage of veterans enrolled in the VHA (53.6%). However, other metrics indicate areas for improvement. Close to 5% of veterans in the Pine Tree State are unemployed and around 7% fall under the poverty line.

7. Montana

Veterans in Montana may find a built-in support system. More than 10% of the population are veterans. These veterans also receive a fair amount of support compared to other states. Almost 60% are enrolled in the VHA and there are 2.83 veterans facilities for every 10,000 vets.

Related Article: 15 Things to Know Before Moving to Montana

8. South Carolina (tie)

South Carolina has a strong veteran presence in both the general population as well as the business sector. Veterans account for 9.9% of the population and own 10.5% of private businesses. Another plus is the relatively low cost of living in South Carolina, which leaves veterans with $27,720 on average to spend after paying for housing.

Related Article: 529 Plans in South Carolina

8. Virginia (tie)

Virginia, home to the Department of Defense, tied with South Carolina as the highest-rated Southern states in our study. Our research indicates that only 4.7% of veterans in Virginia are living below the poverty line. And veterans there have the second-highest median income after housing costs in the country (after Alaska). Virginia veterans have almost $37,000 on average left over after paying for housing.

Related Article: 529 Plans in Virginia 

10. Alabama

Alabama cracks our top 10 because it has the highest veteran business ownership rate in the country. More than 11.2% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State are veteran-owned. The state’s veterans also have a relatively high income after housing – $29,025 on average.

The Best States for Veterans

Data and Methodology

To find the best states for veterans, SmartAsset gathered data for all 50 states in the following seven metrics:

  • Percentage of population who are veterans. This is the percentage of a state’s over-18 population who are veterans. Data is from a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau survey.
  • Veteran unemployment rate. This is the percentage of veterans in the labor force who are unemployed.  Data comes from a 2015 Census Bureau survey.
  • Veteran income after housing. This is the yearly median income for veterans minus the yearly median housing costs in each state. This is based on 2015 Census Bureau data.
  • Percentage of veterans in poverty. This is the percentage of vets whose income in the previous 12 months puts them under the poverty threshold. Data comes from a 2015 Census Bureau survey.
  • Veteran business ownership rate. This is the percentage of all private businesses in a state which are owned by veterans. Data comes from a 2014 Census Bureau survey.
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans. This is the number of Veterans Affairs facilities in a state per 10,000 veterans. This is based on 2015 data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • VHA enrollee percentage. This is the percentage of veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration, a health care system for veterans. This is based on 2015 data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We ranked each state according to these seven metrics. We then averaged those rankings, giving equal weight to all metrics. We calculated an overall index score based on those averages. The state with the best overall average received a 100 and the state with the worst average received a 0.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/wavebreakmedia

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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