The process of readjusting to civilian life can be difficult for many veterans. One survey from Pew Research Center found that 32% of veterans said they had a somewhat difficult time reacclimating to civilian life and 16% had a very difficult time doing that. 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.
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.
- Alaska is the veteran state – Alaska has the highest percentage of veterans of any state. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.2% 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 March 2022, the veteran unemployment rate was 2.4%, better than the unemployment rate of non-veterans. 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.
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 $81,330. Plus, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 4% of veterans were unemployed in Alaska, which is better than the overall state unemployment rate of 5.4% in February 2022.
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.
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%). Veteran unemployment in the state was 6.5%, according to the BLS. That contrasts with the state’s overalll unemployment rate of 3.7% in February 2022.
Of all the states in the country, Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate for veterans. According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, Nebraska veterans had an enviable 2.7% unemployment rate. This compares to the state’s unemployment rate for non-veterans, which was 2.1%. The Cornhusker State also has one of the lowest rates of veteran poverty in the nation.
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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. The downside, however, was that veterans in the state had an 8.4% unemployment rate while the state’s overall unemployment rate was 2.9%.
One statistic that Maine can be proud of is that 10.5% of all private businesses in the state are owned by veterans. Maine, which had an overall jobless rate of 4% in February 2022, also boasts a high percentage of veterans enrolled in the VHA (53.6%). However, other metrics indicate areas for improvement. Veteran unemployment in the Pine Tree State was 5.2% and around 7% fall under the poverty line.
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. Unemployment in Montana was running at 2.6%, but the jobless rate for veterans in the state was 4.4%.
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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. Veteran unemployment was 5.7%; statewide it was 3.5%.
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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 4% were unemployed. Statewide joblessness was 3.2%. 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.
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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. Unemployment among the state’s veterans was 6.3%. Overall joblessness in Alabama was 3%.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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