New ‘Best Places’ lists help veterans make transition

(BPT) – Active Reservist Lisa De Leon had a tough decision to make a year ago when the government temporarily shut down. The 40-year-old single mother of sons ages 16, 15 and 13 considered uprooting her family from San Antonio, Texas for a nationwide job search. However, she had an incomplete college degree in an extremely tight labor market.

“I was thrown into the civilian world, having to look for work,” De Leon says. She opted to stay in San Antonio, to be close to her mother.

It was a fortuitous move. De Leon used the G.I. Bill to finish her education. Soon afterward, she landed a good job that capitalized on her military cybersecurity training.

Her situation ends well. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of military veterans share a different story.

Tough market for veterans

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1.5 million service members will leave the military between 2013 and 2017. More than half of veterans reported that their transition from military service was “difficult,” citing unemployment, health care and education among their top transition concerns, according to a recent survey from Blue Star Families, a nonprofit addressing the challenges of military life.

What’s more, younger veterans, those who served post-9/11, continue to face higher unemployment rates. Annual unemployment figures, which even out seasonal fluctuations, show that the average unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans in 2013 was approximately 9 percent, nearly two points above the national average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To help make such transitions easier, USAA, a financial services provider focusing on the military community, and the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program released their 2014 Best Places for Veterans lists. This year USAA and Hiring Our Heroes have three lists highlighting the best places in the nation for veterans, whether they are starting out, mid-career or retiring from the military.

“It’s vital to approach separation from the military with a plan for your post-military life, whether you’ll pursue a degree, begin your next career or seek to maximize your retiree benefits,” says Eric Engquist, a U.S. Army veteran and assistant vice president of military transition for USAA. “You may need to be open to the idea of living somewhere new in order to find the schools, job opportunities and services you need to enjoy a full, rewarding life after the military.”

Researching for new beginnings

USAA and Hiring Our Heroes commissioned Sperling’s BestPlaces to work with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to help produce the top 10 lists. Together the groups worked to determine measurable variables for 379 major U.S. metropolitan areas. Those variables include the amount of G.I. Bill enrollments at nearby colleges, veteran wage growth and military pension taxation.

The lists take affordability into consideration, but also the opportunity for veterans to find jobs aligning with their military skill sets. USAA also offers a military separation assessment tool to determine an estimate of the salary required in a particular metro area to achieve a desired lifestyle.

“Leaving the military can be a daunting situation,” Engquist says. “But with some planning and preparation, veterans can create a path toward a financially secure, fulfilling life outside the military.”

Just ask De Leon. Now that her family is settled and her job is going well, she has started saving money. Earlier this month, De Leon bought her first home.

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