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5 Veteran-Friendly States

5 Veteran-Friendly States

Most states in the U.S. extend state-specific benefits to veterans, such as educational, tax, recreational, and employment programs aimed at improving their quality of life. Veterans living in certain areas of the country may have more financial opportunity and better/easier access to VA healthcare based on resources available and economy of the state.  We were curious to learn more about benefits offered to veterans by state.  Read on for what we found.

Data

We reviewed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Census Bureau, Smart Asset, and Military.com.  Specifically, we looked at seven key metrics to evaluate the average veteran’s quality of life in that state based on economic opportunity and access to VA health care:

  • Percentage of population who are veterans; *
  • Veteran unemployment rate; *
  • Veteran income after housing costs; *
  • Percentage of veterans in poverty; *
  • Veteran business ownership rate; **
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans; ***
  • Number of veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. ***

*     Based on 2015 U.S. Census Data

**   Based on 2014 U.S. Census Data

*** Based on 2015 Department of Veterans Affairs Data

Five States for Veterans to Live:

1.      Alaska

According to government statistics in relation to our metrics, we are naming Alaska as the most veteran-friendly place to live. More than one in every ten residents in Alaska are military veterans, and the unemployment rate among these veterans was two points below the state’s non-veteran unemployment rate at the time of this data. Additionally, the average income among veterans after housing expenses is the highest in the nation.

  • Percent of population who are veterans: 12.5%
  • Veteran unemployment rate: 4.30%; State unemployment rate: 6.5%
  • Veteran income after housing: 36,831
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans: 2.8

In addition to these favorable statistics, Alaska also offers many state-specific veteran benefits for its residents:

Housing and Tax Benefits

The Veterans Land Sale Preference gives veterans the exclusive opportunity to purchase any unoccupied residential land at a restricted sale and at fair appraised market value before it is offered at auction. Also offered by the state of Alaska is the Veterans Land Discount, which can allow qualified veterans a one-time 25% discount on the purchase price of state recreational or residential land.

Financing, lower interest rates, and a reduced down payment on home loans under the Veterans Mortgage Program are something qualified veterans can also take advantage of in Alaska. These veterans may also receive a one percent interest rate reduction on the first $50,000 of their home loan amount. Finally, disabled veterans with a military disability rating of at least 50% are exempt from property taxes on the first $150,000 of their home’s assessed value.

Employment Benefits

The state of Alaska offers three main employment benefits to veterans living there. First, employees of the state can buy in up to five years of military time toward their State Public Employees’ Retirement System credit to increase monthly benefits. Next, veterans and National Guard members who meet all other job qualifications can be entitled to a 5%-point preference when applying for state jobs. Finally, the Alaska DMV may waive the commercial licensing test for those with recent military commercial motor vehicle experience.

Education Benefits

Surviving spouses or dependents of servicemembers who died in the line of duty or were listed as a prisoner of war (POW) may be entitled to a waiver of undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of Alaska.

Recreational Benefits

  • The Alaska Railroad allows military retirees, active duty, and dependents a 20% discount.
  • Reduced fare on the Alaska Marine Highway System
  • Free hunting and fishing licenses to veterans with a disability rating of at least 50%
  • Disabled veterans can get a two-year Alaska State Park Camping Pass free of charge

2.      South Dakota

South Dakota comes in a close second on our list of veteran-friendly states. Nearly 70% of all South Dakota veterans are enrolled in VA healthcare and this state also has the second-highest number of veteran facilities per 10,000 veterans.

  • Percent of population who are veterans: 9.1%
  • Veteran unemployment rate: 2.43%; State unemployment rate: 3.1%
  • Veteran income after housing: 30,230
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans: 3.9

Housing, Tax, and Financial Benefits

Veterans who are permanently and totally disabled or with loss, or loss of use, of both lower extremities are exempt from paying property taxes on their homes, as are surviving un-remarried spouses. In addition, qualified current or former servicemembers who were legal residents of South Dakota for at least six months immediately prior to military service can receive a Veterans bonus of $500. More qualifying information can be found at Military.com.

Employment Benefits

Veterans who meet the minimum job qualifications for state, county, local, or school district positions are given employment preference. This same benefit applies to unmarried surviving spouses of veterans who died in service or from a service-connected condition. If the disabled veteran themselves are unable to use this benefit, their spouse can.

Education Benefits

  • Free tuition at state colleges is available to honorably discharged residents of South Dakota who served after August 1, 1990 and received an expeditionary, campaign, or service medal for combat operations. Only those who do not meet the requirements for the GI Bill or other educational benefits may be entitled to this benefit.
  • Children of those who died while on active duty AND are under age 25 can be eligible for free tuition at state supported schools.
  • Children of National Guard members who died OR became totally disabled as a result of their service and are currently under age 25 may be eligible for free tuition at state colleges.
  • National Guard members can qualify for a 50% reduction in undergraduate tuition costs.

Recreational Benefits

  • Veterans living in South Dakota may qualify for a four-year fishing license for a small fee if they are entitled to special monthly compensation, are a former POW, collect Social Security Disability, or are at least 40% disabled.
  • Free admission to state parks and discounted camping or electric hookup fees are available to totally disabled veterans (rated at 100%), former POWs, and those entitled to special monthly compensation.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

  • A burial allowance of up to $100 can be provided by the state to assist the families of honorably discharged, deceased veterans pay for funeral expenses.
  • South Dakota will pay $100 towards the cost of setting a government headstone or marker at a veteran’s grave. The veteran must have been a SD resident for at least one year prior to joining the service, or for at least one year prior to their death.

3.      Wyoming

Wyoming is the third most veteran-friendly state. Wyoming has the most veteran facilities per 10,000 veterans, and nearly 60% of Wyoming veterans are enrolled in VA health care. Approximately 1 in every 10 residents are veterans.

  • Percent of population who are veterans: 10.4%
  • Veteran unemployment rate: 3.67%; State unemployment rate: 4.3%
  • Veteran income after housing: 31,010
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans: 4.2

Housing and Tax Benefits

Veterans who served overseas during an armed conflict and received an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal or have a VA or military disability can qualify for a $3,000 reduction in the assessed value of their home. Un-remarried surviving spouses can also qualify for this benefit.

Employment Benefits

Veterans receive a 5-point employment preference over non-veteran competitors for state jobs. Veterans with a disability rating of 10% or more get an advantage of 10 points. Surviving spouses may also be entitled to this benefit.

Education Benefits

Members of the National Guard can qualify for free tuition at the University of Wyoming, seven community colleges, and the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. Some may qualify for partial reduction of fees at private institutions.

Recreational Benefits

  • Free, lifetime fishing licenses are available to veterans who are at least 50% disabled.
  • Free lifetime game bird, small game, and fishing licenses are available for veterans who are 100% disabled.
  • Veterans aged 65+ who have lived in Wyoming for 30 continuous years can receive a free Pioneer bird, small game, and fishing license.
  • Free lifetime day use and camping passes to state parks are available to veterans who are 50% disabled or more.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

Veteran residents of Wyoming may be buried at The Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery free of charge as long as they received any discharge other than dishonorable. Spouses and dependent children can also qualify for this benefit.

4.      Nebraska

Nebraska ranks number four on our list thanks to its very low veteran unemployment rate of under 2% and its low rate of veterans in living in poverty of under 5%.

  • Percent of population who are veterans: 8.8%
  • Veteran unemployment rate: 1.91%; State unemployment rate: 3.0%
  • Veteran income after housing: $30,568
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans: 1.48

Housing and Tax Benefits

Retired veterans living in Nebraska can choose between two tax exemptions for their military retirement pay:

  • 40% exclusion of military retirement income for seven consecutive years; OR
  • 15% exclusion of military retirement income for all tax years beginning at age 67.

Veterans Aid Fund

Nebraska has established a “Veterans Aid Fund,” which provides veterans with assistance purchasing food, shelter, clothes, funerals, medical care, and surgical items in unforeseen emergency circumstances.

Homestead Exemption

The Nebraska Homestead Exemption reduces the amount totally disabled veterans must pay for property taxes.

Employment Benefits

Honorably discharged veterans seeking a state, county, or municipal job can be eligible for a 5% advantage on employment testing. Disabled veterans can receive a 10% advantage on these exams. Current military spouses and spouses of 100% disabled veterans can also qualify for this benefit.

Education Benefits

  • Children of service members who died while on active duty, as a result of active duty, or became permanently and totally disabled as a result of service can be eligible for a tuition waiver at the University of Nebraska and all state community colleges.
  • Current members of the Nebraska-based Reserve units can qualify for a 50% tuition credit at community and state colleges.

Recreational benefits

  • Veterans in Nebraska who are 50% disabled or more can receive free lifetime fishing and hunting licenses.
  • Any Nebraska veteran over the age of 64 can purchase a hunting and fishing license at a reduced rate of $5.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

Veterans and their dependents are eligible for burial in Alliance, Nebraska free of charge. The eligibility requirements mirror those of VA.

5.      North Dakota

North Dakota caps off our list of Most Veteran-Friendly States. This state has the third-highest veteran income in the country and also has a fair amount of VA medical centers per 10,000 veterans.

  • Percent of population who are veterans: 8.2%
  • Veteran unemployment rate: 3.33%; State unemployment rate: 2.8%
  • Veteran income after housing: $36,534
  • VA facilities per 10,000 veterans: 2.85

Housing and Tax Benefits

  • Hardship grants are available to veterans, their spouses, and un-remarried surviving spouses to cover the costs of dental work, glasses, transportation to medical treatment, hearing aids, or other needs during emergency situations.
  • Veterans living with PTSD may be eligible for a “PTSD Grant” from the state of North Dakota to help them afford a service dog.
  • 50% disabled veterans and un-remarried surviving spouses are eligible for a $6,750 deduction in their home’s taxable valuation.
  • Permanently and totally disabled veterans who are either confined to a wheelchair or paraplegic can be exempt from the first $120,000 of valuation for property taxes.

Employment Benefits

All veterans seeking state jobs in North Dakota can receive a 5-point preference for employment. Disabled veterans can receive a 10-point advantage.

Education Benefits

  • Veterans Educational Training (VET) is a course designed to prepare veterans for certificate courses and 2-year or 4-year college degree programs. “Refresher training” in skills such as English, computers, math, and study skills are offered.
  • A dependent tuition waiver for any North Dakota state school is available to dependents of servicemembers who died in action, as a result of active duty, or became totally disabled as a result of service.

Recreational Benefits

  • 50% or more disabled veterans and former POWs can qualify for a free annual permit to state parks. Those rated under 50% can receive an annual permit at a reduced rate of $20.00.
  • 100% disabled veterans can purchase a combined general game, habitat stamp, small game, and fur-bearer license for a reduced rate of $3.00.
  • 50% disabled veterans can purchase a fishing license for a reduced price of $5.00.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

All veterans are eligible for free burial at the North Dakota Veterans cemetery free of charge. Spouses are eligible as well, however, a small fee may apply.

 

Category: Veterans Law

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