These U.S. Cities Are Failing to Take Care of American Veterans
The transition from military life to civilian life can be a difficult one for many veterans. Sometimes they need assistance with that transition and things like finding a home, healthcare, and a job. According to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are around 20.4 million veterans living in the U.S. and with the reported numbers of homeless and unemployed veterans as well as veterans committing suicide, it’s pretty evident that America needs to do better supporting the men and women who served for us.
A study from Wallet Hub took a look at how America’s biggest cities are helping care for our veterans based on a variety of factors including affordability, availability of military skill-related jobs, and availability of quality healthcare. These ranking factors fell into four main categories: jobs, economy, quality of life, and health. The following U.S. cities earned some of the lowest marks and are the worst areas for veterans to live in.
16. Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Overall score (out of 100): 45.78
Out of all the factors considered, Fort Wayne scored fairly low in three of the four main categories. The city ranked particularly low for health coming in at No. 87 out of 100, which is pretty unsurprising since the 2018 star ranking of VA hospitals placed Fort Wayne at just 2 out of 5 stars. The 2018 ranking was a decrease from its 2017 3-star score. It’s not all bad news. As of 2017, the number of homeless veterans had declined earning the city a much higher rank for economy — No. 45 out of 100.
Next: One of the most expensive places to live in a state with a veteran unemployment problem.
15. Chicago, Illinois
- Overall score (out of 100): 45.03
The windy city didn’t do particularly well in any category, but scored lowest in health at No. 84 — just three spots ahead of Fort Wayne. The VA hospital star ranking placed Chicago at 3 out of 5 stars. Its next lowest category was jobs with a ranking of No. 76. A release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that veteran unemployment is a problem in Illinois as a whole, with the state rate coming in around 4.1 percent in 2017. Although newer reports are showing a general decline in the veteran unemployment rate across the country.
Next: This city has the lowest percentage of military skill-related jobs.
14. North Las Vegas, Nevada
- Overall score (out of 100): 45.02
North Las Vegas has the unfortunate distinction of coming in last for a few of the ranking factors. The city was No. 92 in the overall jobs category and had the lowest percentage of military skill-related jobs compared to every other city ranked. It also tied for No. 99 in the health category and Las Vegas received a hospital star ranking of 2 out of 5 stars. On the opposite end of the spectrum, North Las Vegas ranked No. 24 for economy, due in part to the relatively low number of veterans living below the poverty level, according to the Nevada state summary published by the VA.
Next: A low cost of living cannot make up for a lack of jobs.
13. Wichita, Kansas
- Overall score (out of 100): 44.94
Starting with the positive, Wichita was No. 15 in economy, which is surprising considering how low the city ranked in the other three main categories. The city would have to make considerable strides in the factors contributing to its low scores in jobs (No. 81), quality of life (No. 87), and health (No. 85) to improve conditions for veterans and move off this list. Besides its higher marks for economy, Wichita also boasts a 4-star performance rating for VA hospitals, although that was not enough to outweigh the other factors considered in the city’s overall health score.
Next: Many veterans are avoiding this expensive, heavily populated city.
12. New York, New York
- Overall score (out of 100): 44.88
The Big Apple certainly has its fair share of problems when it comes to a variety of public issues, which is almost to be expected considering it’s the most heavily populated city in the United States. New York State as a whole is No. 5 in the country for veteran population, but New York has one of the lowest veteran populations, according to Wallet Hub. That may be, in part, due to New York’s low ranks in quality of life (No. 86) and economy (No. 87) — the city is notoriously expensive. There seems to be one bright spot for veterans looking to live in the city, New York ranked No. 41 for jobs indicating there’s likely some employment opportunities and employment support opportunities, like veteran job fairs, in the area.
Next: There isn’t much ‘prosperity’ to be found in this city.
11. Jersey City, New Jersey
- Overall score (out of 100): 44.00
“Liberty & Prosperity” might be a motto to live by in New Jersey, but that’s certainly not the case for veterans in Jersey City. While they don’t have to worry about pumping their own gas, quality of life as a whole is not great for veterans with the city coming in at No. 90. Jersey City performed marginally better when it comes to jobs and economy, coming in at No. 75 for both categories, and ranked highest for health at No. 54. It seems veterans may have taken note of the less than favorable conditions in the area, much of the state’s veteran population inhabits cities in the western and southern part of the state according to a state summary released by the VA.
Next: Few job opportunities isn’t the only problem in this pricey city.
10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Overall score (out of 100): 43.81
Although the state of Pennsylvania might rank No. 4 for total veteran population, it’s not surprising why the areas surrounding Philadelphia have some of the lowest veteran population densities in the whole state, according to a state summary published by the VA. The city ranked No. 79 for economy, which is almost to be expected when you consider that the cost of living is higher in Philadelphia compared to the rest of the state (and the country). Philadelphia didn’t do much better when it came to health (No. 78) and quality of life (No. 72), and ranked the lowest for jobs (No. 80).
Next: This city has one of the highest veteran unemployment rates.
9. Cleveland, Ohio
- Overall score (out of 100): 43.20
Ohio is certainly up there when it comes to veteran population, the state ranks No. 6 nationally. And because of that Cleveland could be proud of its No.31 rank for health — Cleveland boasts a 5-star rating on the VA hospital star ratings. The same could not be said for the other major categories, which saw the city at No. 88 for quality of life and No. 98 for jobs. According to Wallet Hub, Cleveland tied for having the highest veteran unemployment rate and was bottom five for cities with the highest rate of veterans in poverty.
Next: Too many veterans in this southern city are living in poverty.
8. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Overall score (out of 100): 42.76
Baton Rouge is the southernmost city on this list and has one of the highest veteran unemployment rates, which probably contributed to it ranking No. 88 for jobs. The city scored a little better for quality of life (No. 64) and health (No. 67), even though the nearby Alexandria hospital earned just 2 out of 5 stars. Baton Rouge’s lowest ranking was for economy (No. 92). This is in large part because the city has the highest percentage of veterans in poverty despite having a cost of living just below the national average.
Next: A city that ranked both No. 1 and No. 97.
7. San Bernardino, California
- Overall score (out of 100): 40.55
San Bernardino is a bit of a paradox. The city actually tied with ten other California cities for No. 1 in health, which is a tremendous accomplishment. But that’s where the accolades stop. San Bernardino was No. 76 for economy, probably because of the elevated cost of living when compared to the national average. Worse still, the city ranked no. 97 for both quality of life and jobs and has one of the highest veteran unemployment rates of all the cities evaluated. California actually has the largest veteran population out of any other state according to a state summary released by the VA, and it also has the most homeless veterans out of any other state, according to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Next: Affordable housing isn’t enough for this midwest city.
6. Toledo, Ohio
- Overall score (out of 100): 40.00
Like many other cities on this list, Toledo has one area it seems to do well in and is tanking in the other three categories. Sitting at No. 28 for economy, the cost of living in Toledo is significantly lower than the national average, including a particularly excellent score for housing affordability acccording to BestPlaces. Now the bad news. Toledo ranked close to the worst for every other category including No. 90 for health and No. 94 for both quality of life and jobs. Lucas County, where Toledo is situated, has one of the lowest veteran populations in the state according to a state summary released by the VA, and it’s not hard to see why.
Next: The bottom five
5. Baltimore, Maryland
- Overall score (out of 100): 39.41
It’s no wonder that the city that scored next to last in quality of life is also in the bottom five absolute worst U.S. cities for veterans to live. Baltimore didn’t do much better in economy (No. 94) or jobs (No. 74), but scored surprisingly high in health (No. 38). Baltimore only earned 3 stars on the VA hospitals rating. Based on the Maryland state summary released by the VA, veterans agree that the city is not the best place to live. Baltimore County has one of the lowest veteran population densities in the whole state.
Next: A city with a high cost of living and even higher housing costs.
4. Fresno, California
- Overall score (out of 100): 39.09
Fresno performed the best in health, ranking No. 52, which isn’t saying much. The city earned just 2 stars on the VA hospital annual ratings. Fresno was No. 89 for both jobs and economy. The cost of living in the city is higher than the national average, and the cost of housing is even higher, contributing to the low rank for economy. Fresno scored lowest for quality of life (No. 93). While California might be No. 1 for veteran population, a state summary released by the VA shows that more veterans are living in northern Cali and Fresno County has one of the lowest veteran populations in the state.
Next: A popular tourist destination with few job opportunities for veterans.
3. Memphis, Tennesee
- Overall score (out of 100): 36.05
Memphis certainly has more than a few claims to fame and is well-known as the former home to music legend, Elvis — a veteran himself. Unfortunately, it’s not a great place for veterans to live today. The city’s best rank was No. 55 for economy, which is understandable considering the cost of living is quite a bit lower than the national average. But when it comes to jobs (No. 93), quality of life (No. 92), and health (No.95), there is much to be desired. Memphis earned a measly 1-star rating on the VA’s annual hospital star rating report.
Next: This city has one of highest veteran unemployment rates and a high number of veterans living in poverty.
2. Newark, New Jersey
- Overall score (out of 100): 28.53
Newark ranked dead last in two of the overall categories, jobs and quality of life, in addition to having one of the highest veteran unemployment rates and one of the highest percentages of veterans in poverty. The only thing keeping the city from ranking worst overall is its mediocre health score — Newark was No. 54 in the category, although the nearby East Orange hospital only received 2 stars on the VA hospitals ratings.
Next: The No. 1 worst city for veterans.
1. Detroit, Michigan
- Overall score (out of 100): 28.29
Detroit closes out the list of the worst American cities for veterans to live, despite ranking No. 11 nationwide for overall veteran population. The Motor City consistently scored in the bottom five of every major category except one — health — and even in that the city ranked No. 94. Detroit earned a mediocre 3-star rating on the annual VA hospital star ratings. In addition, according to Wallet Hub, Detroit tied for the highest veteran unemployment rate and ultimately ranked No. 95 in the jobs category. Unsurprisingly, the city ranked No. 98 for overall quality of life.