Deciding where to live after military retirement can be a difficult choice. For the first time in many years, you finally get a choice where to live! But choosing a state for your “forever home” may be more complicated than you think. Besides the obvious choice of moving closer to relatives, military families often weigh several factors when deciding where to retire: Cost of living, state taxes on military pension, employment opportunities for the veteran and spouse, education opportunities for the veteran, spouse, and children, and access to VA healthcare centers. Then there are other things to consider, like the overall climate and general attractions in the area.
Many families find it convenient to live near a military base after retirement. Even if it is not an installation from the veteran’s branch, it will still have benefits for the whole family, including a health clinic or military hospital, discounted groceries at the Commissary, and an ongoing connection to the military community. Check out our top 10 duty station suggestions, then use the PCSgrades area guides to learn more about each area.
10. Grand Forks AFB: Grand Forks, North Dakota
You may be surprised to learn that Grand Forks public schools are some of the best in the nation! So if you retire here, you can be confident that your children will have good educational opportunities. They can even attend the University of North Dakota in town. The area has a healthy low unemployment rate of 2.5%, and has access to several VA medical clinics.
9. Joint Base Lewis-McChord: Tacoma, Washington
The Pacific Northwest area is not cheap. The cost of living in Seattle is above the national average, and median homes prices are around $760,000. But just south of Seattle is the city of Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where the average home price is a more comfortable $354,000. Increasing numbers of veterans are choosing Washington for their retirement. It could be because the state has no tax on personal income. Or it may be because there are five Pacific Northwest military bases within close proximity. There are also 11 VA health facilities in the region. Whatever your reason, don’t overlook this beautiful corner of the country on your retirement list.
8. NAS Pensacola: Pensacola, Florida
Florida is a popular state for military retirees. Spend some time in the Sunshine State and you will soon see why: great weather, white-sand beaches, and convenient access to numerous military bases throughout the state. Also, Florida does not have a state tax on income or on military pensions, so you can get the most out of your benefits here. While there are military bases in several corners of the state, throughout the state, the Pensacola area has the highest concentration, with six military bases on Florida’s Gulf Coast. There are three VA facilities and one Naval Hospital right in Pensacola, and you will find several college campuses in Pensacola if you want to continue your education.
7. NB San Diego or Camp Pendleton: San Diego, California
Surprisingly, although San Diego is located in liberal Southern California, it is one of the largest military cities in the country! There are five major military installations in the San Diego area, and sprawling Camp Pendleton, just one hour north, is the largest employer in Northern San Diego County. Despite the high numbers of active duty stationed in the area, retirees outnumber active duty almost three to one. Not only is San Diego military-friendly, but it is home to numerous military organizations and charities. There are 12 VA facilities within 50 miles. If you can get past the high cost of living, the incredible sunny weather year-round makes the “sunshine tax” a worthwhile price to pay for living in an area with so much natural beauty and ongoing attractions.
6. Fort Hood: Austin, Texas
Fort Hood is about one hour north of Austin, Texas, but it contains the only VA Medical Center in the area, so many veterans prefer to retire close to Fort Hood. Living here gives you access not only to Austin, but also other great Texas cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Texas has no state tax on military pay, and a low cost of living, which makes it a great place to maximize your military pension. The Austin area offers numerous federal jobs and defense contract positions. Read more about the Fort Hood area here.
5. Tinker AFB: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma may not be on your list of dream retirement locations, but the extremely low cost of living is only one of several reasons to keep this city on your list. Oklahoma’s capital offers the University of Oklahoma, along with a variety of food and entertainment options. The median home price in the Oklahoma City area is just $106,000! There is a low unemployment rate, and a high number of veteran-owned businesses. There are several military installations in the area, and a nearby VA medical center, so retiring to Oklahoma City gives you access to your military benefits. However, be aware that Oklahoma is a state that does tax military pensions.
4. Washington, D.C. area
Although the cost of living is quite high in the Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia area, this is still a mecca for retiring veterans because of the job opportunities and military-friendly connections. You can use your GI Bill to finish a degree at several prestigious universities, or benefit from the low unemployment rate to launch your next career. Not only are there numerous positions available in the defense industry and military-related organizations in the region, but you are also in commuting distance of several military bases. There are 19 military installations around Washington D.C., including the Pentagon, Joint Base Acostia-Bolling, MCB Quantico, Fort Belvoir, MD, Andrews AFB, Bolling AFB, Fort Mcnair, Patuxent River, MD, Fort Myer, the Marine Corps Barracks, the Navy Yard, and the Coast Guard Headquarters.
There are 25 different VA health facilities nearby, and veterans can benefit from specialists stationed at Navy Medical Center Bethesda, MD and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
3. Fort Carson: Colorado Springs, Colorado
There are five military bases in the Colorado Springs area: Fort Carson, Peterson AFB, the Air Force Academy, Schriever AFB, and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Veterans love this area for the numerous outdoor adventure opportunities, and educational options at the University of Colorado. Although the cost of living is higher than the national average (median home price is around $330,000), Colorado offers very low property taxes and has a flat tax on income. The Evans Army Community Hospital is on Fort Carson, and the closest VA medical center is in Denver.
2. Lackland AFB or Fort Sam Houston: San Antonio, Texas
There’s a reason this area of Texas is called “Military Town USA.” San Antonio is home to Lackland AFB, Fort Sam Houston, and Randolph AFB, and also to the largest VA medical center in the DoD. Veterans will fit right in, surrounded by numerous active duty families, veteran-owned businesses, and fellow retirees. Texas has no state income tax, and San Antonio already has a low cost of living, so this is a very affordable place to call home when leaving the military. Read more about San Antonio housing and attractions here.
1. Naval Station Norfolk: Virginia Beach, Virginia
The southeast corner of Virginia has a high population of active duty and retired military families—and for good reason! The Norfolk and Virginia Beach area boast several major military bases. In addition to the sprawling NS Norfolk, there are the smaller bases of NAS Oceana, Dam Neck, Little Creek, and Fort Story in Norfolk, with Joint Base Langley-Eustis further north in Hampton Roads. Consequently, the area has a large number of federal jobs, defense contract awards, and jobs using military skills. There are several major colleges and universities nearby if you choose to continue your education: The College of William and Mary, Old Dominion University, and Hampton University. There is also a major VA hospital that serves the region. Norfolk has an average cost of living, much more affordable than Northern Virginia around the D.C. area. One downside is that Virginia does tax military pensions, so do your research and compare your budget to other potential locations.
When you are ready to look for your “forever home” after military service, PCSgrades can connect you with top-rated real estate agents who are familiar with military moves, VA loans, and all the details of military retirement. Visit PCSgrades.com to connect with your military-friendly expert today!