Pittsburgh offers best opportunities for young veterans, study finds

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Pittsburgh has earned another top score in the "best places" books, this time as the best place in the nation for veterans to move from active duty to civilian life, according to a new study commissioned by financial services company USAA and Military.com.

In their third annual report, "Best Places for Veterans," researchers focused on the needs of recently discharged veterans because of the recent drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, said retired Cmdr. Ward Carroll, editor of Military.com, a military and veteran membership group.

Those young veterans, many of whom are in their early 20s, are thinking about continuing their educations, finding rewarding civilian jobs and possibly starting families, making Pittsburgh -- with its high-quality universities, diverse local economy and affordable neighborhoods -- an ideal place to consider settling, he said.

"We are bullish on this list as a way for veterans to start Chapter Two of their military lives in very constructive and positive ways," Cmdr. Carroll said.

The "Best Places for Veterans" list identifies U.S. metro areas that give newly minted veterans more opportunities to find a job or go to college while enjoying a good quality of life in an affordable area.

Researchers from Sperling's BestPlaces reviewed 379 major metropolitan areas for employment sectors that align with military skills, such as defense, engineering, medical services and aviation, and also examined the overall job climate. They also looked for quality colleges, universities and local primary schools. And they examined quality-of-life factors such as affordability, crime rate, taxes and recreation opportunities. Variables were rated according to what recent and soon-to-be veterans said was important to them.

After Pittsburgh, the best places for veterans were Phoenix; Dallas; Cleveland; Atlanta; Warren, Mich.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; and St. Louis.

Wherever they go after their discharge from active duty, many veterans are most interested in continuing their education with the help of a new post-9/11 GI Bill that pays for college tuition and a living stipend. About 5 percent of enlisted service members have a bachelor's degree, although 94 percent have a high school diploma and/or some college education, according to researchers.

And no matter where they ultimately relocate, veterans and soon-to-be veterans need to make a transition plan as soon as possible, said Scott Halliwell, a financial planner for USAA. It can cost a lot of money to move to a new city, but sometimes service members procrastinate for too long before planning their post-military life, he said.

"They wait until they don't have enough time to have enough money saved to make that transition," he said. "And all of a sudden instead of getting off to a great start, you're running up credit card debt."

The earlier they make a plan, the smoother and less stressful their transition will be, Mr. Halliwell said.

"Just like all the planning people do in the military, apply that same logic to transitioning out of the military and you have a better chance of putting yourself in a good position," he said.

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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