Chicago is not doing its part to support military veterans, says a new study. Out of 100 cities examined, Chicago ranked as number 99 in terms of how well the city offers economic, education, health and housing opportunities.
WalletHub looked at employment opportunities, cost of living, housing affordability, veteran populations, number of Veterans Affairs Benefits Administration Facilities and number of VA health facilities, among other things, to rank 100 cities in the U.S. in order of ease in being a veteran there.
In 2013, there were 21.4 million military veterans in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. About 722,000 were unemployed, many because of disabilities that resulted from their service. And as of June 2014, nearly 300,000 were deprived of emergency jobless compensation. Employment is a benefit guaranteed to military personnel upon their return from active duty. For the rest of our unemployed veterans who are willing and able to work, there is no excuse for the scarcity of jobs.
Lincoln, Neb. was ranked No. 1 in the country for veterans, with good scores for both economic opportunity and health, environment and education. Newark, N.J. was ranked as the worst city for veterans, with a bad economic score and the worst city for health, environment and education. Newark is the only city Chicago beat. Ranked at number 99 for the overall living quality of being a veteran in the city, Chicago also ranked at number 95 for economic wellness and 91 for health, environment and education. The highest-ranking city in the Midwest was Madison, Wis. at number four. Chicago's other neighbors ranked a bit worse: St. Paul, Minn. was ranked as number 51, Kansas City, Mo. was ranked at number 68, St. Louis, Mo. was number 59 and Indianapolis, Ind. was number 77.
In general, the lower Midwest had cities that ranked pretty well, but the Great Lakes region as a whole seemed to be struggling. Check out every city measured's ranking with this map:
Freemon, Calif. had the highest percentage of military-skills jobs, while Las Vegas, Nev. had the lowest. Hialeah, Fla. had the lowest veteran unemployment, while Virginia Beach, Va. had the highest, but Virginia Beach did have the lowest percentage of homeless veterans (San Francisco, the worst city for veteran homelessness, had 28 times more homeless veterans than Virginia Beach). The city with the fewest veterans living in poverty was Anchorage, Ala., and Detroit had the most. Virginia Beach also is the city with the most veterans living in it out of the 100 cities ranked.
Despite being the second-to-worst city on the list, Chicago was not ranked in the top five worst (or best) of any particular category.
Aniela K. Szymanksi, visiting professor of practice and staff attorney at Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, William and Mary Law School told WalletHub that finding proper mental health services is the biggest struggle veterans face today. They may also need help transitioning back into regular life at home and re-learn things such as budgeting. Plus, while skills they used in the military can be translated to civilian jobs, many veterans need guidance about where to find those jobs.
Veterans should not only choose a city where there is job demand for their skills and job opportunities, but also where they have access to support systems. Transitioning from the military to civilian life is difficult for everyone leaving the military and veterans need to intentionally set themselves up for success by stacking the deck in their favor. These support systems can vary based on the individual but can include things like proximity to medical centers that can handle a veteran's needs. VA has invested millions of dollars in building state-of-the art medical centers in an effort to address these.
Szymanski also suggested that veterans look into non-VA programs and said that many veterans feel most comfortable living in communities that already have a high concentration of veterans that can provide support systems.
See the list of every city's rank at Reboot Illinois.
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