The Complete Guide to Deciding Where to Live After the Army

When you're coming to the end of your military service there are a lot of decisions to make about the next stages of your life. And one of the most important ones is where you'll live. There's a lot to take into account when making that decision. Here's what you should consider. 

Where Can You Take Advantage of Your Veteran Benefits?

You know that you're entitled to certain benefits as a veteran. But, depending on where you live, it might be easier to take advantage of those benefits than it is in other places. Here's what to consider.

Programs for Veterans

Not only are you eligible for federal benefits like VA loans once you're out of the military, many states offer additional benefits for servicemen and women. Benefits can range from not having to pay income taxes on your military retirement income to additional scholarships for your children, to property tax exemptions. If you're deciding between a few states, be sure to check out the full list of veterans benefits so you can get a better idea of what you can take advantage of. 

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Healthcare

Do you qualify for VA hospital health care? Using your veterans benefits for healthcare can also mean that you have more flexibility to go to school full-time, to take certain jobs regardless of the benefits, or to take more time to look for the right job since you won't have to worry about health benefits. If your  healthcare if a major factor in your decision on where to move, you should also make sure that there's a Veterans Health Administration office that's easily accessible and offers all the services and specialties that you might need. 

Education

If you're planning on taking advantage of your education benefits, that's another thing to consider when you're deciding where to live. If you have a good idea what you want to get a degree in, look for colleges that have strong programs that can lead to that specific job. The right college might be about more than the classes, too. Many colleges have specific programs to help support veterans as they transition to college--remember, you're in a very different place in your life than the typical college freshman. You should also consider any other support services the college has, like an internship office, career counseling, and a strong alumni network. 

Cost and Jobs

Between the commissary and housing allowances, you probably haven't worried too much about the cost of living in different cities while you were in the military. Here's what you should think about now that you're a civilian. 

What is the job market like?

Some cities have better job markets than others. Where's the best place for you to use your military training to find a job? For example, if you had medical training, look for cities with a large number of hospitals and other healthcare centers, like Baltimore, Md. The goal is to find a city where there are a lot of jobs that utilize your unique skills. Make sure you also find out which areas weight military service heavily in their state and local government hiring score--you'll be more competitive in those cities than you are in other places. 

Cost of Living 

How much does it cost for things like housing, food, entertainment, and everything else you might need in your potential new city? You might love San Fransico, but the cost of living might have you considering something a little further away from the city center. Take some time to create a budget that you can use to estimate what you can get for your money in a new town. While you're at it, be sure to explore whether it's more expensive to rent or buy in your new town so you can make a plan for potentially using your VA loan benefits in the next few year. 

How much will the military pay for?

You're probably familiar with PCS moves and how much the military will pay for based on the weight of your stuff, how far you're going, and whether or not you're moving it yourself. When you leave the military, some of the same principals apply, but how you're leaving the military will dictate how long you have to take advantage of that benefits. If you're retiring or if you have VSI, SSB, or TAMP then you'll have one year to complete your final move on Uncle Sam's dime. But if you have separation orders than you only have 180 days to make the transition. 

Lifestyle

When you were in the military you didn't have much of a say over what kind of place you lived in. Now that you're a civilian you should spend some time thinking about what you want from your new town. Some people want to try something wildly different than anywhere they've lived before while others are much more interested in moving back to the place where they grew up. You might end up staying in this new town for a long time, so you should think about what's important to you. 

  • Walkability/public transportation
  • Night life
  • Access to outdoor recreation 
  • Size of the town
  • How close is it to family 

Are you headed to the Rocky Mountains? Or is a small place on a sunny beach on your wishlist? Now that you can choose where you live, the world is your oyster. So, get out there and enjoy it!