10 Best Cities for Veterans
Support for those who served is strong in these cities
PHOTO CREDIT: Wes Aldridge
Thousands of U.S. soldiers join the ranks of retirement each year. The majority of these men and women are 55 and over, but many younger veterans come out looking to start a second career. These military veterans deserve to live in thriving cities, where job opportunities are plentiful but the opportunity for a life of leisure exists. We've identified the best places for military retirees to live, whether you're looking to start a second career or a spot to relax.
To make our picks we considered a number of factors including: climate, cost of living, unemployment rate, proximity to military installations, VA hospitals, recreational opportunities, cultural amenities and overall livability. We also asked military veterans what they wanted in a city.
Retired Master Sgt. Paul Chester, a Colorado Springs resident who served in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years, says there are a number of reasons to retire near a military installation. Among the reasons he mentioned were being able to get post-military defense contracting jobs, access to medical and commissary and free services such as legal advice. Military installations also have a morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) office that give vets access to all kinds of discounted tickets and equipment rentals for outdoor activities like camping.
"And finally, there are lots of friends around military installations who speak the same military lingo that you speak, and you can sit around and tell war stories until the cows come home," Chester says.
10. Cheyenne, WY
Cheyenne, WY, the state's capital, offers the romantic setting of the wild west and the sophistication of a vibrant small city. Cheyenne is about 90 minutes from Denver, CO and sits at the northern section of Rocky Mountains. Veterans can find commissary and exchange at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and receive health care at a VA medical center.
The climate here is semi-arid, with an average summer high around 80 degrees and a winter low of 11. The city gets an average of 327 days of sunshine and 52 inches of snow each year. No state income tax, low property taxes and a low cost of living make this city even more attractive to those on a fixed income. Advanced educational opportunities include Laramie County Community College and The University of Wyoming. Cheyenne's economy consists of light manufacturing, construction and mining, agriculture, the military, tourism, and transportation (Union Pacific Railroad).
Unemployment rate: 6.7%
Age 55 and over: 29%
9. Tucson, AZ
Set in the Sonoran Desert Valley, Tucson, AZ, is surrounded by five mountain ranges that provide great views and many recreational activities. While Tucson is home to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, it is near three other military installations. Just 70 miles away is Fort Huachuca, an Army base. Tucson is 139 miles from Luke Air Force Base; and 273 miles from Camp Navajo, a training site for multiple branches of the military. These bases give veterans a range of options for commissary and access to military services.
Residents enjoy an average of 350 days of sunshine each year, temperate winters and a culturally diverse population. There are five city-owned golf courses and more than a dozen private clubs. The city has more than 800 miles of bike paths. Winter brings opportunities for snow skiing at Mt. Lemmon. The Wall Street Journal described the city as a "mini-mecca for the arts." Tucson schools range from elementary to higher education, and the city is home to one of the nation's premier research and development facilities, the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park. The city has more than 1,500 restaurants, ranging from small diners to fine dining, and several shopping districts including the Broadway Village, which was created in 1939.
Unemployment rate: 8.3%
Age 55 and over: 24%
8. Kenner, LA
A suburb of New Orleans, Kenner, LA, offers a more family-friendly version of the Big Easy. The nearby New Orleans Naval Air Station allows military retirees access to commissary and exchange, and there is no tax on federal pensions here. The local VA medical center in New Orleans is scheduled to reopen in 2013. Currently, veterans make the 90-mile trek to the VA medical center in Biloxi for health services or visit the massive Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner.
The city's business climate is tied to New Orleans, which is home to one of the largest and busiest ports in the world. Tourism is a staple of the regional economy, which is also supported by power generation. NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility is located in New Orleans. Government officials have stated it will be used in the next phase of space exploration, a development that could bring a projected 2,000 jobs to the facility. Nearby Tulane University offers vast educational opportunities.
Kenner is located on the Mississippi River and includes several museums, a repertory theater and a 16-block historic district called Rivertown. Kenner residents enjoy top-quality recreational facilities that host youth and adult leagues. A park area called Laketown features a boat launch, two piers, pavilions, walking trails and a bait house.
Read about neighborhoods in Kenner.
Unemployment rate: 7.2%
Age 55 and over: 25%
7. Syracuse, NY
Located in central New York, Syracuse offers the military retiree a variety of lifestyles. The city is home to a local VA hospital, the longest-running state fair in the country (New York State Fair), Syracuse University and is about 80 miles from Fort Drum. There are 11 colleges in the city and surrounding area, and the economy here is entrenched in education, health care, science and research. Veterans will be happy to know that New York does not tax federal pensions and home prices in Syracuse have remained stable.
The surrounding countryside, with its gentle rolling hills, offers a touch of tranquility while remaining close to a thriving metropolis. Downtown Syracuse includes the historic Armory Square, which has a collection of pubs, restaurants, a museum, playhouse and shops. There are more than 40 golf courses in the area, a year-round professional opera company, 50 parks and nature centers and the Erie Canal.
Unemployment rate: 7.9%
Age 55 and over: 24%
6. Topeka, KS
The capital of Kansas, Topeka offers a high quality of life and an economy headed in the right direction. Its business climate has a growing list of manufacturing and distribution firms including Allen Foods, Hallmark Cards, Goodyear Tire and Frito-Lay. The Topeka VA Medical Center provides health care to veterans, but the nearest commissary is in Fort Leavenworth, which is about 55 miles away. Forbes Field, a joint-use civil-military airport is located just three miles south of the city. The Holley Museum of Military History, which contains a large collection of dioramas, models and artifacts, is located in downtown Topeka. Other Topeka attractions include art and live performances.
The city is undergoing a redevelopment and rebranding. In April 2010, city officials proclaimed that Topeka would, for one month, be called Google, KS, the capital city of fiber optics, in response to a joke the mega search engine played on the world when it announced that it was changing its name to Topeka. That same year, Kiplinger's Personal Finance list named the city among the Top 10 Cities for the Next Decade.
Age Unemployment rate: 7%
55 and over: 23%
5. Madison, WI
Madison, WI, has the lowest unemployment rate on this list. On the flip side, it's got the highest median home price of our 10 picks, but home prices here have remained stable and proved to be a good investment for residents.
The economy of the surrounding region is anchored by health-care companies, agriculture (yes, dairy) and advanced manufacturing. Federal pensions are not taxed in Wisconsin, but military retirees have a bit of a drive to the nearest tax-free commissary. Fort McCoy is about 90 miles away. There is a VA medical center close by.
Madison made Money magazine's 2008 list of America's best small cities and Military.com picked it as one of the "Best Places for Military Retirement." Residents enjoy a vast amount of outdoor activities, in a relatively cool climate, that range from swimming and hiking in the summer to ice fishing and snowmobiling in the winter. Madison has a highly ranked education system and is close to a dozen state parks. The city is also home to the University of Wisconsin and was picked as one of our "Top 10 College Towns."
Unemployment rate: 5.5%
55 and over: 21%
4. Carlisle, PA
Carlisle, PA, the smaller part of the Harrisburg-Carlisle Metro Area, was founded in 1751 and offers a quaint downtown, a collection of technology-based firms and a strong service industry. The city is home to the Carlisle Barracks, which hosts the U.S. Army War College. The college ranks among the oldest and most senior military educational institutions in the country. The state of Pennsylvania doesn't tax federal pensions, and there's a VA medical center about 30 miles away.
Carlisle is located in the Cumberland Valley, an area lush with forests and mountains. Across the Cumberland Valley there are a variety of recreational and cultural attractions that appeal to both tourists and residents. These attractions include the Williams Grove Speedway, several golf courses, art galleries, wineries, hiking, hunting and much more.
Unemployment rate: 7.4%
Age 55 and over: 31%
3. San Angelo, TX
San Angelo, TX, is home to Goodfellow Air Force Base, and residents here have been supporters of the military since 1867, when Fort Concho was established. Veterans can recieve health care at the San Angelo Clinic or travel 85 miles to the VA medical Center in Big Spring. The city is also within 90 miles of Dyess Air Force Base and about 185 miles from Fort Hood and about a 4-hour drive from Naval Air Station JRB Fort Worth.
Residents enjoy a low cost of living, low rainfall and low unemployement rates. Forbes magazine listed San Angelo as one of the Best Places for Businesses and Careers. A key contributor to the city's lofty business climate is the telecommunications industry. Other strong industries include manufacturing, agriculture and oil. The city has a vibrant downtown with more than 250 shops and has received national recognition for historic preservation.
Unemployment rate: 6.7%
Age 55 and over: 25%
2. Colorado Springs, CO
It's hard to beat the opportunities for Physical Training, oops we mean recreational adventures, that Colorado Springs, CO, has to offer. Add in that the city is home to such military installations as Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and Schreiver Air Force Base, and Colorado Springs gives veterans a vast support network and potential job market. While the nearest VA medical center is located in Denver, about 63 miles away, there is an outpaitent clinic for veterans in Colorado Springs.
The defense industry plays a major role in the economy here, employing thousands of vets. Some of the city's largest employers develop high-tech weapons, aircraft, spaceships and electronic equipment. The city was originally a resort town, and the scenery, hikes, and geological features here are among the best in the nation. Colorado Springs is full of outdoor adventure and home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center and several club sports teams. The group Walk Score ranked the city as the 34th most walkable city in the country.
Unemployment rate: 9.5%
Age 55 and over: 23%
1. Fayetteville, NC
Home to Fort Bragg, one of the largest military complexes in the world, Fayetteville, NC, has a military history that goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War. It is considered America's First Military Sanctuary Community. Pope Air Force Base is also located near Fayetteville, and Camp Lejeune is about 106 miles away. This gives veterans three options for commissary and access to services. Health-care needs are met at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center.
Residents in Fayetteville have a fondness for those who have and are serving their country. The city created Heroes Homecoming, a nearly two-week celebration of Vietnam Veterans during the month of November, and held a karaoke contest during a 31-day Salute to Soldiers event called Patrioke. Quality-of-life amenities include 20 golf courses, easy access to beaches and mountains, and a multitude of recreation and outdoor opportunities. Businesses across the city provide deep discounts to current and former members of the military. Fayetteville gets a solid mix of all four seasons.
55 and over: 25%