Servicemembers spend years of their life relying on the chain of command for orders – how to dress, how to train, how to fight. But when it comes to a life after service, the voice of the drill instructor or C.O. has gone silent. Every decision is now in the veteran's hands, including that of where to go next. So, when the discharge papers come through, how do you make your choice?
According to the Military Times, a majority of veterans chose to stick around their previous duty stations. That's part of why San Antonio's veteran population lies in the six-figure range. Familiar cities aren't the only places in the country with a culture and services tailored to veterans, however.
An analysis conducted by the Military Times has revealed the best cities nationwide – a number of which may be surprising – for veterans seeking a career or comfortable place to settle down. Other studies have determined the worst cities for returning veterans. These are areas that lack military-related jobs, affordable housing and wage growth.
Here's a closer look at both the good and the bad:
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Commuting to work is a breeze in Virginia Beach – on average, the trip is only a little more than 20 minutes. It's also one of the safest cities the Military Times found, with just 26.6 crimes per 1,000 people according to Census data. A culture that values its military members – who often play a big part in community events – puts Virginia Beach at the top of the list.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Veterans make up a big part of Colorado Springs's population, and the city welcomes their presence with open arms. Homes here go for a little more than $200,000, putting housing easily within reach for veterans, while multiple VA facilities accepting military insurance and benefits are less than an hour's drive.
Every November, San Antonio hosts Celebrate America's Military – a self-explanatory event that draws veterans and their families from all over. Very affordable housing is also a big appeal. Homes in the city can be bought for just a fraction of what they might cost elsewhere. Housing discounts are among the veterans benefits on offer.
One of the best aspects of San Diego is its education system, its colleges in particular. Both San Diego State University and the University of San Diego made the Military Times' list of the best colleges for veterans. Having what very well may be the best climate in the country makes the city's strong military culture even more hospitable.
Veteran-friendly companies – from Chesapeake Energy to Verizon to Terra Construction – are just one trait Oklahoma City prides itself on. Many of the companies are owned and operated by veterans, making for a very warm, friendly atmosphere around military service members in the city. A VA medical center less than three miles from the city center doesn't hurt either.
Among the hardest cities to live in for veterans trying to break out of poverty, WalletHub ranked Detroit dead last on its list of best and worst cities for former servicemembers.
Newark, New Jersey
Coming in second-to-last to only San Bernardino, California for lowest veteran income growth, Newark also has the inglorious distinction of having the highest percentage of veterans living below the poverty line in WalletHub's study.
Since WalletHub declared Boston one of the worst cities for veteran homelessness – it tied with San Francisco and Atlanta, among others – the city has put a lot of effort behind getting veterans long-term housing.
Any veteran moving to Hialeah won't find themselves with very much company. The city ranked dead last of the 100 studied by WalletHub for veteran population, meaning that sense of community and veteran culture would be very difficult to find.
With one of the lowest percentages of military skill-related employment, Miami makes it tough for veterans to find jobs that properly utilize their experience. In a city as expensive as Miami, that's pretty much a deal breaker.