Once military service ends, veterans begin their transition to civilian life. It can be a challenge to find a new place to live and work, and an area that includes support services and health care options for veterans.
NerdWallet crunched the numbers, including data to highlight economic opportunity, to find the nation’s top 10 cities for veterans.
Vets don’t stray far from military communities. All of the places on our list have at least one military base within the city limits or close by — which indicates many veterans don’t move far from their former base.
Top cities have a higher percentage of veterans than the U.S. average. The cities that ranked high on our list have large veteran populations — as much as 19% of the population. To put this in perspective, about 8.6% of Americans older than 18 are veterans.
Veterans find jobs in the top cities. Veteran unemployment in the top places is lower than the general population.
Welcome to Arizona. Three cities on our list — Goodyear, Sierra Vista and Maricopa — are located in Arizona, with two in the Phoenix metro area. The state is home to several military bases and offers services for veterans, including employment, housing and educational resources.
Top 10 cities for veterans in 2015
1. Beavercreek, Ohio
The close proximity to veterans’ services is a key attraction of Beavercreek, which is just 13 miles from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The Miami Valley Military Affairs Association sponsors events and offers support for vets, and about 8 miles away, in Xenia, veterans can get employment help from the OhioMeansJobs Greene County Center. Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton, is about 15 miles from the Dayton VA Medical Center. Also in Dayton, the Military Veterans Resource Center offers support with employment, housing, food and transportation. Honor Flight Dayton provides free trips to see national memorials in Washington, D.C., for veterans of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as for terminally ill veterans.
2. Madison, Alabama
Madison is minutes from Redstone Arsenal, an Army post. The base provides support and services, including employment guidance, to current and former members of the military. Madison veterans enjoy the highest median income of any city on our top 10 list at $71,425. An Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs office and the Madison County Veterans Service Office are located in nearby Huntsville. Also in Huntsville, the Floyd E. “Tut” Fann State Veterans Home provides elderly veterans with housing and medical care. The closest VA medical center is about 90 miles away in Birmingham.
3. Goodyear, Arizona
Goodyear, a suburb of Phoenix, is near several places of interest for veterans, including Luke Air Force Base, Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base, Phoenix Vet Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System and West Valley Vet Center. Up By Their Bootstraps, an organization based in Goodyear, provides opportunities and support to members of the military, veterans and families. Veterans in Goodyear have an unemployment rate of 1.5%, the lowest on our top 10 list. The nearby Glendale Community College provides enrollment and referral services for veterans transitioning from military life to an academic environment. The local chapter of the Disabled American Veterans is also in Glendale.
4. Papillion, Nebraska
Papillion, located outside Omaha, has the lowest rate of veterans living below the poverty line on our top 10 list. The city is less than 10 miles from the Offutt Air Force Base. Papillion is home to VFW Post 9675, which serves Sarpy County. In nearby Omaha, veterans can find the Omaha VA Medical Center and the Douglas County Veterans Services Office. The University of Nebraska Omaha is known for its high graduation rates for military veterans, and it recently was No. 1 in Military Times’ Best for Vets: Colleges 2015 rankings. The Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home is located minutes away in Bellevue and provides services for assisted living, intermediate care, skilled care and Alzheimer’s disease care.
5. Schertz, Texas
Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, is a neighbor of Randolph Air Force Base in Universal City. The base is part of Joint Base San Antonio, which also includes the Army’s Fort Sam Houston and Lackland Air Force Base. Veterans make up about 22% of Schertz’s population. There is a VFW post in Schertz, and the closest VA hospital is Audie L. Murphy Memorial in San Antonio. Guadalupe County Veterans Service offices can help Schertz veterans seeking information about filing for their benefits. Veteran employment specialists are available at the Workforce Solutions Alamo in San Antonio.
6. Sierra Vista, Arizona
In Sierra Vista, veterans make up about 28% of the total population. When it comes to job opportunities, the city leads our top 10 list for two of the most popular industries among veterans: over 21% of jobs are in public administration and 7% of positions are in transportation, warehousing and utilities. A prominent fixture in this southeast Arizona city is Fort Huachuca. The fort is home to the Army Intelligence Center and the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Army Signal Command. There is an Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services office in Sierra Vista, and the Sierra Vista Community Based Outpatient Clinic is located in the city as part of the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, based in Tucson.
7. Chesapeake, Virginia
Chesapeake and the surrounding areas of southeastern Virginia are a highly concentrated military area. The city is home to the Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, which provides support services for 11 commands. A Veterans Benefits Service Field Office recently opened in Chesapeake on the campus of Tidewater Community College to serve the large population of veterans in the area. Other nearby military installations include the Coast Guard’s Fifth District, just 8 miles away in Portsmouth; the Navy’s Norfolk Naval Shipyard; a Naval Medical Center and an office of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. And in Hampton, less than 30 miles from Chesapeake, veterans will find the Hampton VA Medical Center.
8. Maricopa, Arizona
Maricopa is the second city on our list located in the Phoenix metro area. Similar to Goodyear, Maricopa is near Luke Air Force Base, Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base, Phoenix Vet Center, Phoenix VA Health Care System and West Valley Vet Center. Maricopa is 35 miles from the former Williams Air Force Base, which shut down in 1993. The space is now used for businesses, colleges and the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The county of Maricopa offers services for veterans including programs focusing on health care, homelessness, affordable housing, down-payment assistance, home improvement, court- and law-related programs, continuing education and skills training and employment.
9. Vacaville, California
The Northern California city of Vacaville is less than 13 miles from Travis Air Force Base. A branch of Disabled American Veterans is in Vacaville. The Solano County Veterans Services Office in nearby Fairfield offers information and referrals, as well as a Veterans Discount ID Card. There are several veterans halls in the area, including one in Vacaville. These halls are meeting hubs for many veterans groups including the Brotherhood of Vietnam Vets, VFW and American Legion. Vacaville is 45 miles from the Sacramento VA Medical Center in Mather.
10. Lake Stevens, Washington
Lake Stevens in Snohomish County is close to the Naval Station Everett in Everett and an Armed Forces Reserve Center in Marysville. The VA Puget Sound Health Care System serves veterans in the area. At the Everett Vet Center, run by Veterans Affairs, veterans can find out about Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs services. Eligible Veterans can receive limited emergency assistance from the Veterans’ Assistance Fund by applying through Snohomish County. In Lake Stevens, more than one-fifth of all jobs are in manufacturing, one of the most popular industries for veterans.
Top cities for veterans in 2015
|Rank||City||Percentage of veterans in the adult population||Public administration, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, utilities workforce||Veteran unemployment rate in 2013||Median income for veterans||Veterans who live below the poverty line||Score|
|6||Sierra Vista, Arizona||27.6%||28.2%||3.8%||$56,675||7.4%||85.82|
|10||Lake Stevens, Washington||11.6%||28.9%||4.7%||$54,804||2.9%||85.11|
|14||Summerville, South Carolina||13.4%||25.4%||2.0%||$44,390||3.2%||84.06|
|16||Cottage Grove, Minnesota||11.2%||26.0%||1.5%||$50,099||2.5%||82.91|
|28||Warner Robins, Georgia||17.8%||32.6%||4.0%||$43,987||10.0%||80.01|
|29||Mount Pleasant, South Carolina||10.4%||17.9%||0.8%||$55,243||0.6%||79.72|
|33||Virginia Beach, Virginia||19.4%||20.0%||5.7%||$50,997||4.3%||79.36|
|37||Suisun City, California||11.7%||23.7%||5.5%||$53,424||4.0%||79.03|
|38||Maple Valley, Washington||8.5%||27.8%||3.7%||$64,161||1.2%||78.88|
|39||League City, Texas||8.7%||26.4%||2.0%||$62,399||2.4%||78.70|
|42||Midwest City, Oklahoma||15.5%||26.5%||4.4%||$41,135||6.3%||78.32|
|48||Hilton Head Island, South Carolina||12.4%||8.2%||0.0%||$54,806||1.5%||77.61|
|49||Huber Heights, Ohio||15.3%||29.9%||8.9%||$42,444||6.2%||77.51|
To assess a city, we looked at the two key areas of economic opportunity and community.
Economic opportunity is 70% of our overall score and included the following factors, which were weighted equally:
1. Industries that employ more veterans than civilians. We identified the three industries where the percentage of all veterans working in these sectors is at least 2% higher than the percentage of all civilians working in these industries, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These industries include public administration and manufacturing, and a category that combines transportation, warehousing and utilities. Then, we looked at the percentage of residents employed in each of these industries in a city — a higher number was weighted positively.
2. The 2013 unemployment rate for veterans from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
3. The percentage of veterans living below the poverty line, according to the 2013 American Community Survey.
4. The median income for veterans from the 2013 American Community Survey.
Community is 30% of a city’s score. We assessed the community through the percentage of residents in a city who are veterans, according to the 2013 American Community Survey.
Note: A city’s proximity to VA medical facilities wasn’t included in our methodology because the Senate recently approved legislation to expand veterans’ access to treatment outside the VA health care system, according to news reports.
NerdWallet staff writer Anna Helhoski contributed to this article.
Phoenix, Arizona, skyline image via iStock.