New Hampshire is the fifth-best place in America — and the best state in New England — for military retirees. Neighboring Vermont ranks dead last.
That was the finding of a new data analysis by Wallethub that reviewed overall economic opportunity, quality of life, and access to healthcare for veterans. New Hampshire was number five, just ahead of Maine (8), Connecticut (11), and Massachusetts (14). Rhode Island came in a dismal 43. Vermont was at the bottom of the list.
Part of New Hampshire’s appeal to veterans is the low tax environment. Jeremiah Gunderson, director of Veteran and Military Affiliated Services at the University of Texas at Austin, said military retirees want to be where their military pension will not get taxed.
“I find it ridiculous that we make people pay taxes after choosing to sacrifice so much of their lives in service to their nation,” Gunderson said. “As tax-funded employees of the DOD, with taxpayer-funded retirement pay, why are we taking taxes on tax-generated retirement pay?”
Radio host Jack Heath, host of the syndicated show Good Morning New Hampshire, is an outspoken advocate for veterans through his work with Fusion Cell, an organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. He also does an annual radiothon to raise money to help veterans. This year he brought in $104,000.
Word is spreading about the opportunities in New Hampshire for military retirees, Heath told NHJournal.
“I think there’s increasingly a growing network that veterans leaving the military are hearing about,” Heath said.
New Hampshire has a high percentage of military retirees among its residents despite not being home to a large military base or installation.
Heath said veterans are attracted to the 603 way of life, but also find they can also get help making the switch from military to civilian life.
“I met a lot of veterans. They move here because of family, a lot of them have never been here. They love the state motto, they hear the quality of life is good, the schools are good, and they are surprised by the support,” Heath said.
There is no veterans service hub in the state, so Easter Seals and its Veterans Count team try to be a one-stop shop for military retirees who need help. Stephanie Higgs, clinical director for Easter Seals New Hampshire Military and Veterans Services, said many veterans need services most Granite Staters need, like access to health care, mental health care, and access to affordable housing. Unfortunately, the current labor shortage is impacting the ability of veterans to get help.
“We know some of the services vets struggle with right now are the same things civilians struggle with,” Higgs said. “The demand is greater than the capacity to meet that demand right now.”
Heath said he was surprised when he started working with Fusion Cell to learn about the difficulties many veterans have when they get out of the military. The culture change is enormous, and the military services do not prepare the retirees for life on the outside.
“It’s a culture shock,” Heath said. “I’ve seen some veterans take months or a year to really get adjusted.”
Gunderson said one problem veterans face is that their military specialty rarely translates into employment qualifications in the civilian world.
“As an example, I was a medic in the Army with two deployments to Iraq and considerable experience running a clinic,” he said. “However, when I left the military I was not qualified to do anything other than possibly EMT basic.”
Fusion Cell works to connect veterans with civilian job opportunities, getting them the support they need to succeed in the world.
For the most part, New Hampshire does a good job in offering a variety of services to veterans, both Heath and Higgs said. But while there are many programs or organizations in the state to assist veterans, there is no coordinated platform to connect the overturns to the groups. Heath said the state government should step in and serve as a liaison.
“I bust my butt trying to do it every day, but we really need the state to do a better job,” Heath said.
As for the rest of New Hampshire, Heath wants Granite Staters to be good to the veterans all around.
“Be aware of the veterans are in our community, of the families who sacrificed while they were serving,” he said.