Worst places for veterans to live

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October 12, 2018
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Worst places for veterans to live

There are about 20.4 million veterans in the United States who represent about 10% of the country's population. Americans continue to value services for veterans as a priority, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is largely viewed as unfavorable, scoring last on a list of 10 federal agencies and departments on favorability.

The Department of Veterans Affairs operates the country's largest health care system, with 1,400 hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics, and employs nearly 15,000 doctors. However, the demand for health care among veterans is often too great for the system to meet. Nearly one-third of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from mental health conditions, but only 30% have their mental health needs met.

Veteran care depends largely on the location of a medical facility, with some obtaining better physicians, training, and newer equipment than others. These factors greatly impact the quality of care, and can have a significant effect on a veteran's experience in a city or locale. WalletHub analyzed the 100 largest cities in the U.S. across 17 key indicators, including livability, affordability, and veteran-friendliness. Stacker took the lowest-ranking cities from that data to compile a list of the worst places for veterans to live.

Read on to find out which cities veterans should avoid.

ALSO: Cities with the most veterans

#50. Norfolk, VA

Total WalletHub score: 53.45

Jobs rank: 70

Economy rank: 59

Quality of life rank: 33

Health rank: 52

In September, Norfolk held a free hiring expo for veterans looking to advance their careers. Veterans were able to meet face-to-face with employers and hand out copies of their resumes, as well as participate in on-site interviews and benefit from immediate hiring.


#49. Miami, FL

Total WalletHub score: 53.26

Jobs rank: 79

Economy rank: 66

Quality of life rank: 73

Health rank: 18

To honor the 17th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, players from the Miami Dolphins visited veterans at the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System as well as the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center.


#48. Santa Ana, CA

Total WalletHub score: 53.05

Jobs rank: 5

Economy rank: 84

Quality of life rank: 98

Health rank: 1

Santa Ana has a Veterans Resource Center that offers information on services veterans and family members can use. The center includes resources for health care, legal aid, employment, and education.


#47. Stockton, CA

Total WalletHub score: 52.90

Jobs rank: 63

Economy rank: 32

Quality of life rank: 93

Health rank: 1

Veterans living in Stockton, California, and its surrounding areas who need medical care or treatment frequently have to travel hours through traffic to the Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. Many veterans are unable to drive that distance, and taking public transportation is an obstacle for many as well. An outpatient clinic for veterans in Stockton was proposed 15 years ago, but isn’t slated to open until 2022.


#46. Los Angeles, CA

Total WalletHub score: 52.27

Jobs rank: 58

Economy rank: 91

Quality of life rank: 54

Health rank: 23

In California, affordable housing is a challenge for many, and veterans are no exception—many face eviction. Thanks to efforts by the city to increase funding for a program that provides 90-day emergency housing for veterans, the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles has declined 18% from 2017.


#45. New Orleans, LA

Total WalletHub score: 52.08

Jobs rank: 54

Economy rank: 43

Quality of life rank: 55

Health rank: 55

Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans’ Veterans Affairs hospital in 2005, a major loss, but this also enabled the city to reimagine how it could serve its veterans during rebuilding. The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Systems opened for outpatient services in the fall of 2016, and has nine buildings and 200 beds.


#44. St. Paul, MN

Total WalletHub score: 51.94

Jobs rank: 34

Economy rank: 35

Quality of life rank: 34

Health rank: 98

In 2015 and 2016, state officials determined that the city of St. Paul had violated a law that helped hire veterans for city jobs. The state’s Veterans Preference Act gives an advantage to veterans applying for city, county, or state government jobs.


#43. Mesa, AZ

Total WalletHub score: 51.33

Jobs rank: 57

Economy rank: 58

Quality of life rank: 57

Health rank: 56

The city of Mesa has an anti-camping ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping outside. Many residents have argued that it targets the homeless population, some of whom are veterans. During a city council debate among candidates, some expressed how the ordinance negatively affects veterans, especially when homeless shelters reach capacity.


#42. Houston, TX

Total WalletHub score: 51.32

Jobs rank: 83

Economy rank: 54

Quality of life rank: 63

Health rank: 33

The city of Houston holds an annual event called Houston Stand Down, which aims to help veterans transition back to civilian life. At this event, veterans can receive free meals, clothing, haircuts, legal advice, rental assistance, and vocational training. In 2017, the event served 657 individuals.


#41. Oakland, CA

Total WalletHub score: 51.1

Jobs rank: 19

Economy rank: 89

Quality of life rank: 94

Health rank: 1

In January of 2018, a United Nations representative visited homeless encampments in Oakland, California, referring to the situation as "systemic cruelty." She also said that while homelessness is an international issue, the situation in California is actually worse than in other parts of the world.


#40. Tucson, AZ

Total WalletHub score: 51.05

Jobs rank: 62

Economy rank: 49

Quality of life rank: 46

Health rank: 66

The veterans hospital in Tucson, Arizona, recently received the lowest possible rating for its quality of care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Patients at the hospital report long wait times, and say that it is short-staffed.


#39. Nashville, TN

Total WalletHub score: 50.99

Jobs rank: 14

Economy rank: 76

Quality of life rank: 42

Health rank: 93

Three of Tennessee’s Veterans Affairs hospitals, including one in Nashville, are rated among the worst in the entire network. The issue has become contentious among candidates for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee, with both promising improvements in the veteran health care system.


#38. Kansas City, MO

Total WalletHub score: 50.96

Jobs rank: 64

Economy rank: 51

Quality of life rank: 50

Health rank: 63

Jason Kander, thought to have been the front-runner in the Kansas City mayoral race, recently dropped out, citing the post-traumatic stress disorder he was experiencing, which stemmed from his time in the military. This has inspired local veterans in the city to come forward and seek help or treatment for their struggles adjusting to life after serving in the military.


#37. Fort Wayne, IN

Total WalletHub score: 50.88

Jobs rank: 17

Economy rank: 34

Quality of life rank: 59

Health rank: 92

The Northern Indiana Veterans Affairs health care system was ranked this year in the bottom third of all veteran health operations in terms of patient satisfaction, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The facility lacks single-bed rooms, and instead has many three-bed rooms, which patients report as having little privacy.


#36. New York, NY

Total WalletHub score: 50.59

Jobs rank: 52

Economy rank: 85

Quality of life rank: 56

Health rank: 42

New York has a veteran suicide rate of 19 per 100,000 people, compared to the rate of the general population, which is 10.4 per 100,000. The state reports that the risk factors veterans face, including inadequate VA healthcare, homelessness, chronic pain, and opioid dependence, may contribute to a higher suicide rate.


#35. St. Louis, MO

Total WalletHub score: 50.57

Jobs rank: 29

Economy rank: 63

Quality of life rank: 65

Health rank: 68

Veterans and family members who were served at the St. Louis Veterans Home issued complaints that were made public last year, detailing allegations of improper medication, a lack of transparency, and an inability to hire and retain quality staff members. In response, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens replaced several members of the state’s Veterans Commission after an outside investigation revealed serious problems.


#34. Glendale, AZ

Total WalletHub score: 50.27

Jobs rank: 22

Economy rank: 74

Quality of life rank: 80

Health rank: 56

Starting in 2014, Phoenix-area veterans began demanding a change in their health care system when it was revealed that the Phoenix VA had a backlog of 8,200 pending claims. This meant that it was possible some veterans had died waiting for their claims to go through. Veterans also claimed they had been rotated through different case managers, which created a lack of continuity in their medical care.


#33. Buffalo, NY

Total WalletHub score: 49.97

Jobs rank: 80

Economy rank: 64

Quality of life rank: 74

Health rank: 35

In March, it was reported that medical staff at the Buffalo VA Medical Center failed to try to resuscitate a patient suffering a cardiac arrest, and pronounced him dead before taking further action. This revelation resulted in a devastating report that called for substantial changes in the medical facility.


#32. Chicago, IL

Total WalletHub score: 49.47

Jobs rank: 53

Economy rank: 75

Quality of life rank: 43

Health rank: 78

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessed a veterans home in Quincy after several outbreaks of the deadly Legionnaires’ disease were reported, and found that a complete eradication of the Legionella bacteria might not be possible given the facility’s reliance on a complex water system. The Quincy veterans’ home is the state’s oldest, with some of its infrastructure more than a century old.


#31. Milwaukee, WI

Total WalletHub score: 49.23

Jobs rank: 25

Economy rank: 40

Quality of life rank: 77

Health rank: 84

In late 2015 and 2016, investigators found problems in staffing, safety, and protocol at the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee. The medical center made national news in 2015 after a veteran died of a heroin overdose just 11 days after entering the inpatient drug rehab center.


#30. Washington, DC

Total WalletHub score: 49.08

Jobs rank: 47

Economy rank: 88

Quality of life rank: 62

Health rank: 43

An inspection at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center this year found the facility posed a risk to patient safety. This was after a report was released last year that encouraged immediate action to fix problems, not limited to dirty syringes, staff and supply shortages, and unsanitary equipment. The inspector general’s office released a statement blaming a “culture of complacency” for the lack of progress.


#29. Henderson, NV

Total WalletHub score: 49.02

Jobs rank: 69

Economy rank: 55

Quality of life rank: 25

Health rank: 99

A former VA doctor, a veteran himself, went public in August about his concerns with the Southern Nevada VA. The doctor claimed that veterans were transferred into the community for treatment they should have received at the VA. Employees at the hospital blamed the transfers on limited specialty staff at the center.


#28. Anaheim, CA

Total WalletHub score: 48.8

Jobs rank: 71

Economy rank: 87

Quality of life rank: 91

Health rank: 1

In Orange County, California, the number of homeless veterans has increased since 2013, even though the overall number has decreased nationally. Advocates say that military veterans living on the streets often deal with credit, disability, and employment issues.


#27. Laredo, TX

Total WalletHub score: 48.5

Jobs rank: 86

Economy rank: 67

Quality of life rank: 76

Health rank: 24

Homelessness remains a prominent issue among veterans in Laredo, Texas. One woman started a program to provide food, medical services, and housing for veterans. Local officials say her efforts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have enabled significant progress in alleviating the problem.


#26. Albuquerque, NM

Total WalletHub score: 48.43

Jobs rank: 23

Economy rank: 22

Quality of life rank: 79

Health rank: 90

The New Mexico VA Healthcare System was ranked among the 10 worst VA hospitals in the country, based on factors including wait times for appointments, death and infection rates, access to care, and patient and employee satisfaction. The center fought back on the ranking, and said that 93% of veterans seeking an appointment are granted one within 30 days.


#25. Phoenix, AZ

Total WalletHub score: 48.38

Jobs rank: 76

Economy rank: 25

Quality of life rank: 58

Health rank: 81

The Phoenix VA Healthcare System, which serves 92,000 veterans, has had seven different directors in four years and continues to score poorly in terms of patient satisfaction. An inspector general’s report of the facility from earlier this year found deficient safety processes, inspections, and mental health diagnoses.


#24. Jersey City, NJ

Total WalletHub score: 48.33

Jobs rank: 15

Economy rank: 86

Quality of life rank: 84

Health rank: 50

Construction started at the end of September for a parking area for veterans visiting Paterson’s memorial plaza in northern New Jersey. Some were unable to access the memorial, so commemorations were forced to move to the bottom of the hill on which the plaza is situated. The goal is to complete the project by Veterans Day.  


#23. Long Beach, CA

Total WalletHub score: 48.23

Jobs rank: 36

Economy rank: 99

Quality of life rank: 88

Health rank: 13

The VA Long Beach Healthcare System saw a 60% increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health care between 2007 and 2013. In response to the growing demand, the facility has hired almost 100 additional mental health staff since 2005. Recent reports have suggested, however, that the system is still struggling to meet demand from patients.


#22. Lexington-Fayette, KY

Total WalletHub score: 47.97

Jobs rank: 94

Economy rank: 36

Quality of life rank: 41

Health rank: 65

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul sent a letter to the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2014, saying that he had heard numerous complaints from Kentucky veterans ranging from delays in appointments to quality of care in the state. The family of Louis Smith also filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that the veteran died prematurely because of poor treatment at the VA hospital in Lexington.


#21. Baton Rouge, LA

Total WalletHub score: 47.7

Jobs rank: 75

Economy rank: 77

Quality of life rank: 67

Health rank: 62

In 2015, an auditor found that the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs had failed to properly address problems at its veterans' homes. The report also claimed that staff did not follow guidelines for updating care plans after incidents occurred, and in one instance, didn't follow up after a resident filed allegations of sexual misconduct.


#20. Lubbock, TX

Total WalletHub score: 47.63

Jobs rank: 95

Economy rank: 47

Quality of life rank: 64

Health rank: 24

A 2012 investigation found that Texas veterans returning from military service were dying at an alarmingly high rate. More than one in three Texas veterans died from prescription drug overdoses, and nearly 1 in 5 died in a motor vehicle crash. Among those with a diagnosis of PTSD, 80% died of an overdose, suicide, or motor vehicle accident.


#19. Philadelphia, PA

Total WalletHub score: 46.89

Jobs rank: 66

Economy rank: 80

Quality of life rank: 69

Health rank: 73

A 2015 government audit found that the Veterans Affairs facility in Philadelphia had poor leadership and gave staff unreasonable workloads, which led to mismanagement and delays in handling claims. The report also cited inadequate responses to more than 31,000 veteran inquiries, and that some dates were even manipulated in order to make old claims appear new.


#18. Portland, OR

Total WalletHub score: 46.38

Jobs rank: 59

Economy rank: 90

Quality of life rank: 32

Health rank: 87

Earlier this year, the New York Times uncovered efforts by the Roseburg Veterans Administration Medical Center to limit the number of patients it admitted in order to boost its quality of care ratings. The investigation found that starting in 2016, administrators began turning away patients it deemed “complicated,” admitting only patients considered to be low-risk.


#17. Wichita, KS

Total WalletHub score: 45.95

Jobs rank: 90

Economy rank: 19

Quality of life rank: 68

Health rank: 76

In 2014, it was revealed that the veterans’ hospital in Wichita, Kansas, kept a secret waiting list of patients and that a number of individuals had waited more than 90 days to see a doctor. The city is said to have terminated the waiting lists, and improved access to patient care since then.


#16. Reno, NV

Total WalletHub score: 45.83

Jobs rank: 78

Economy rank: 41

Quality of life rank: 36

Health rank: 96

In 2014, the Reno VA office was ranked the worst in the nation for processing veterans' claims, and had the longest average wait time. Reno was also the only regional office with a wait time of more than 400 days.


#15. Boston, MA

Total WalletHub score: 44.92

Jobs rank: 73

Economy rank: 92

Quality of life rank: 61

Health rank: 49

Whistleblowers at veterans’ hospitals in the Boston area have reported that buildings contain asbestos, patients can go hours without food, anesthetists were improperly trained and veterans remained for hours in soiled sheets. People who have complained about the quality of care report that they have been forced out of the facility, or have faced ostracism.


#14. Fresno, CA

Total WalletHub score: 43.45

Jobs rank: 87

Economy rank: 82

Quality of life rank: 95

Health rank: 21

A recent survey of veterans living in Fresno and Madera Counties found that 338 veterans living in those counties were homeless. The study also reported that veterans are twice as likely to become homeless, and are also more at risk than nonveterans to become homeless.


#13. Las Vegas, NV

Total WalletHub score: 43.44

Jobs rank: 81

Economy rank: 71

Quality of life rank: 35

Health rank: 97

In 2016, veterans living in the Las Vegas area reported that they were receiving letters about delays in processing their disability claims from a manager at the Veterans Benefits Administration Service Center who no longer worked there. The office blamed the mistake on a computer glitch.


#12. Indianapolis, IN

Total WalletHub score: 42.65

Jobs rank: 39

Economy rank: 78

Quality of life rank: 85

Health rank: 89

A manager at the Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis emailed offensive photographs to her employees, mocking mental health problems that veterans at the center face. Reports of the email drew outrage from veterans’ groups who called for the manager’s dismissal.


#11. Atlanta, GA

Total WalletHub score: 41.03

Jobs rank: 85

Economy rank: 97

Quality of life rank: 49

Health rank: 75

The Atlanta VA Medical Center has the highest number of staffing shortages of any VA hospital in the United States. The hospital is also among one of the busiest in the country, and one of the fastest growing, with an increasing demand for care.


#10. Cleveland, OH

Total WalletHub score: 40.94

Jobs rank: 93

Economy rank: 81

Quality of life rank: 83

Health rank: 47

The Veterans Administration recently teamed up with the Cleveland-area Lorain County Sheriff’s Office to deliver contact information and resources a veteran experiencing distress might need. “A lot of veterans have invisible wounds,” said Todd Mitchell, the Northwest Ohio VA Healthcare System Police Chief.


#9. San Bernardino, CA

Total WalletHub score: 40.82

Jobs rank: 96

Economy rank: 83

Quality of life rank: 97

Health rank: 1

Last year, the Loma Linda VA was among the worst-ranked VA facilities in the country, providing lower-quality care than neighboring hospitals and scoring just one out of five stars in the VA’s internal rating system. In response, Rep. Pete Aguilar started a Veterans Advisory Board to advise the needs of the local veteran community.


#8. Toledo, OH

Total WalletHub score: 40.44

Jobs rank: 88

Economy rank: 33

Quality of life rank: 89

Health rank: 88

In Ohio, counties are permitted to collect a property tax each year in order to pay for veterans’ services, but in 2012, it was revealed that while the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission was eligible to spend about $4.1 million annually, it was actually spending less than half of that. Critics said that the county was forgoing a crucial opportunity to provide important services to veterans by withholding this money.


#7. North Las Vegas, NV

Total WalletHub score: 40.32

Jobs rank: 77

Economy rank: 53

Quality of life rank: 81

Health rank: 99

In 2016, the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System began using alternative therapies to alleviate the chronic pain, panic attacks, and traumatic injuries that plague many veterans. One of the therapies involves Tai Chi classes, which is said to reduce stress and anxiety.


#6. Birmingham, AL

Total WalletHub score: 40.11

Jobs rank: 98

Economy rank: 62

Quality of life rank: 71

Health rank: 77

Between 2015 and 2016, wait times at the Birmingham VA Medical Center doubled, partly because appointments increased by 9% during the same time period. The center has reportedly had a difficult time hiring doctors, because it faces fierce competition with the private sector.


#5. Memphis, TN

Total WalletHub score: 39.65

Jobs rank: 61

Economy rank: 69

Quality of life rank: 90

Health rank: 94

The Memphis VA Medical Center has been ranked as one of the worst VA hospitals in the country. In 2017, there were more than 1,000 reports of threats to patient safety at the hospital, which was up from 700 the year before. Among all of the VA medical centers, the Memphis location also has some of the worst death rates following acute care or pneumonia treatment.


#4. Hialeah, FL

Total WalletHub score: 37.36

Jobs rank: 92

Economy rank: 96

Quality of life rank: 92

Health rank: 15

In 2011, five Miami-area veterans who had colonoscopies at the VA during a five-year period tested positive for HIV, while eight tested positive for hepatitis C and one for hepatitis B—all stemming from improperly sterilized equipment.


#3. Baltimore, MD

Total WalletHub score: 34.12

Jobs rank: 97

Economy rank: 95

Quality of life rank: 96

Health rank: 37

An inspector general report from last year found that Baltimore’s VA Medical Center has inadequate staffing and poor patient flow. The report also found long wait times, overcrowding, delayed bed cleaning, and lack of support staff.


#2. Newark, NJ

Total WalletHub score: 31.74

Jobs rank: 99

Economy rank: 72

Quality of life rank: 100

Health rank: 50

Though the local government in Newark, New Jersey, has tried to propose a shelter for homeless veterans, the idea has been met with concern from residents, who fear that the building wouldn’t be big enough. Other residents believe the proposed location was inappropriate, because it is near a pre-school and high school.


#1. Detroit, MI

Total WalletHub score: 26.94

Jobs rank: 89

Economy rank: 93

Quality of life rank: 99

Health rank: 95

According to a VA rating from 2016, Detroit's John D. Dingell VA Medical Center had declined in performance in wait time for specialty care appointments, and readmission rates for cardiovascular and medical patient cohorts. The facility has been given a one-star rating out of five by the VA.


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