Transitioning from military to civilian life is quite a big change. While most individuals and families make use of available resources and accomplish the transition without great difficulty, there will probably still be a few challenges along the way. One of the biggest, faced by nearly every retiring service member, is deciding where to live.
There seems to be no end to the advice on this subject, from every imaginable source, ranging from the Internet to magazines to chambers of commerce to your friends and family. If you search online, you’ll find a nearly endless supply of lists of the best and worst cities for veterans to settle down, and the contents of these lists can vary widely. That’s because each website or author uses different metrics to measure cities’ values or prioritizes different elements of life. When veterans and their immediate families are deciding where to live, the first thing they need to do is figure out which metrics or aspects of life are the most important for them.
For some people, it may be important to have a support system nearby, which may mean moving back home to be near family or settling near the location of your last posting if you have lots of friends and former co-workers in the area (or if your kids are in school there). If you feel ready to strike out on your own, however, you may wish to explore a completely new area of the country. You may want to strike a balance and settle near a military base where you were never stationed: it will be a brand new place for you, but you’re sure to make friends who have had experiences simlar to yours.
It’s also important for veterans to consider what kind of job they’d like to have after military retirement and where that job is likely to be available. (Of course, if you’re married, you’ll need to think about your spouse’s employment needs as well.) Think about skills you gained during your military service and how they can be translated to the civilian job market, either directly or indirectly. Many employers will appreciate the leadership and discipline skills you gained during your military service and will gladly pay for you to learn more concrete abilities that will benefit their company. If you desire a job that will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or if you’re interested in earning a degree simply for personal growth and experience, you’ll need to consider the educational opportunities in or near places you might like to live. (Many colleges and universities offer benefits for veterans who enroll, so be sure to check out these advantages as you evaluate possible schools.)
Cost of living is an important consideration when deciding where to settle; urban areas tend to be more expensive than rural ones, and suburban areas can vary greatly. It may not be feasible to live in an expensive area if you’re going to school full-time, but maybe you can live in a further-away location that will cost less and commute to school, or maybe you can take one or two fewer classes and work at least part-time. Remember that certain states tax military pensions, while others do not. Be sure to also factor in personal preferences: If you hate snow, you may want to stick to the southern U.S. If you crave wide-open spaces, a large city may not be a good fit for you.
Finally, you’ll want to look at how your VA benefits fit into the picture. Some areas of the country are abundant with VA services such as commissaries and health facilities, including hospitals, physical therapy, mental health services, and more, while in other places VA services might be several hours or more away. If you’re planning to use a VA loan to purchase a home, you’ll definitely want to look at housing prices and market stability before deciding where to invest your money.
In sum, veterans and their families should live wherever they will be happiest and best able to achieve their future goals, which means the solution will be slightly different for everyone. Cities that have military bases and plenty of VA services are certainly popular choices, but there may be other places that work better for you. No matter where you end up, our family of VA loan specialists and lenders at Fortress VA Loans will be able to help you examine and understand home purchase and refinancing options in your area.