As Florida’s millions of veterans observed Memorial Day 2018, they had one more reason to stand tall and proud: A newly released report ranks the Sunshine State as the best place in the United States for military personnel to retire.
The report, released online by the consumer financial advice service WalletHub, explained its rationale for issuing the report and the criteria that were used to reach its findings.
“To help our troops plan their years after service, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 27 key indicators of retirement-friendliness toward veterans. The data set ranges from job opportunities for veterans to housing affordability to the quality of VA hospitals.”
The scores in these categories were averaged, with some categories more heavily weighted than others because they were considered more significant. On a scale where 1= the best and 25= the worst, Florida fared well enough to produce a composite score that ranked it number one, slightly ahead of Virginia, New Hampshire, Alabama, and South Carolina.
In a sampling of the factors that were taken into account, the state ranked 11th in the number of veterans per capita, although that is arguably more a measure of quantity than quality.
Florida, with no personal income tax, ranked ninth in “tax friendliness” and 12th in job opportunities for veterans. The job factor is important because even those veterans who spend an entire career in the military are relatively young when they retire and, thus, have much more to contribute as employees, as employers, as entrepreneurs, and as citizens active as volunteers in their chosen communities.
Florida ranked sixth in the number of Veterans Administration (VA) health facilities per number of veterans. That’s an especially important factor nowadays as the cohort of veterans from the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and even Iraq and Afghanistan ages.
Moreover, as noted in The James Madison Institute’s prescient 2011 Backgrounder titled Collateral Damage: Floridians Coping with the Aftermath of War, “There has been a growing realization of the collateral damage on the home front as military personnel and their families cope with the aftermath of war.”
The study, a joint project of JMI and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, was co-authored by University of South Florida political science professor Dr. Susan MacManus and Dr. Susan C. Schuler, President of Susan Schuler & Associates, with the assistance of USF honors students Mary L. Moss and Brian d. McPhee. A key finding:
“The counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in an unprecedented use of improvised bombs, devices that struck with terrible force but little precision. Two-thirds of all injuries in Operation Iraqi Freedom are blast related.
“Coalition forces, though, had access to medical skills, and time and again saved the lives of soldiers who just a decade ago would not have survived. Thousands of servicemen and servicewomen returned home with grievous injuries recognizable in an instant: missing limbs, burn scarring, and paralysis.
“But thousands more suffered damage that is usually invisible but no less devastating, a class of wound becoming known as invisible injuries: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.”
As the Backgrounder highlighted, those kinds of injuries often take a toll on the veterans’ families, sometimes leading to domestic abuse and violence, child abuse, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, divorce, and the dissolution of families.
Yet it would be a disservice to Florida’s veterans to assume that all or even most of those who served in the military are deeply troubled. Most move on with their lives, and many have made the choice to do so in Florida.
The fact that so many veterans choose to come to Florida after completing their military service, whether it be a two-year hitch or a 30-year career, is nothing new.
Indeed, as University of South Florida historian Dr. Gary Mormino noted in his 2005 book Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida, the state’s population boom after World War II could be attributed, at least in part, to the desire of many ex-GIs to return to Florida, where they had undergone training during the war.
Nowadays, on almost any day of the year, veterans sporting any item of clothing that suggests that they once served in the military are accustomed to hearing a cheery “Thank you for your service,” often accompanied by a salute or the proffer of a handshake.
For most veterans, such gestures are well received – and a welcome change from the hostile reception that too often greeted returning veterans during the era of the Vietnam War as it became increasingly unpopular.
Meanwhile, at least twice a year – on Memorial Day and Veterans Day – those who served in the military are at the epicenter of public attention and appreciation.
Celebrated annually on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day because of the custom of placing flowers and flags on the graves of those who had died in service to their country.
The practice became common, north and south, after the end of the Civil War. In 1868, at the urging of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, Decoration Day was formally recognized as a time to decorate the graves of Union soldiers….
Continue reading at JMI’s online publication Florida Verve