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With Memorial Day reminding us of our veterans' sacrifices, and also recent stories of failures in the VA's health system in the news, I thought it would be interesting to create an interactive map looking at where our nation's veterans live. Like any other demographic group, they aren't spread out uniformly throughout the country, but tend to cluster near other veterans.

The map (shown as a screen shot above; you can see the full interactive version below the fold) shows veterans as a percentage of the overall civilian population in each county. It's a little deceptive at first glance, though; your eye is naturally drawn to the large swaths of blue in the Mountain West and Northwest, but that doesn't show the largest populations. Many of these counties are nearly empty, though they have above average percentages of veterans. What's more noteworthy is which very populous counties have the largest percentages, and we'll pull those out in a table over the fold. The common thread in these counties is that they contain military installations; in other words, veterans often don't move far at all once they leave the armed forces.

The county with the highest percentage overall is Fall River County, South Dakota, where 32.4 percent of the civilian population are veterans. (That's according to the Census Bureau's 2005-10 American Community Survey.) It's a county in the Black Hills with only 7,000 people who are disproportionately senior citizens. That's followed by Esmeralda County, Nevada (27.8 percent), Haines Borough, Alaska (26.6 percent), Liberty County, Georgia (26.5 percent), and Pulaski County, Missouri (26 percent).

Many of the most veteran-heavy counties are, like Fall River, rural places with lots of retirees. However, when you pull out only the most populous counties (those with populations over 100,000, for our purposes), you see a much different pattern: they all have military installations.

Overall
Rank
County Percentage Base
8 Okaloosa, FL 24.0 Eglin AFB
13 Montgomery, TN 22.6 Ft. Campbell
14 Onslow, NC 22.5 Camp LeJeune
18 Cumberland, NC 21.4 Ft. Bragg
21 Bell, TX 21.3 Ft. Hood
24 Cochise, AZ 20.9 Ft. Huachuca
27 Comanche, OK 20.7 Ft. Sill
31 Hampton, VA 20.4 Langley AFB
33 Hardin, KY 20.3 Ft. Knox
34 Virginia Beach, VA 20.1 Oceana NAS

Counties #4 and #5 from above, Liberty and Pulaski, also have military installations (Ft. Stewart and Ft. Leonard Wood, respectively); they aren't in the table because their overall populations are below 100,000.

So why do veterans tend to stay put when they get out of the service (or move to another area where veterans are clustered)? Part of it is cultural: it's where their friends from the service are, or it's also where their professional connections are, making it easier to get a private sector job. But part of it's also economic: some benefits that veterans enjoy follow them anywhere (like VA home loans), but others don't. Not all veterans qualify to be able to shop at a deeply-discounted PX or to use Tricare, but for those that do, there's a strong incentive to live within easy driving distance of an exchange or a VA medical facility. And the fact that it's such an important factor in so many people's decision about where to live means that it's very important for government to actually get veterans' health care right.

You'll also notice, looking at the map, that there are large concentrations of veterans in traditional inexpensive retirement areas, like Texas's Hill Country, or the cheaper parts of Florida like Marion and Pasco Counties (but not so much in Florida's swankier retirement areas, like Sarasota or Palm Beach).

Looking at the map, you'll also notice where the veterans aren't, especially California, and primarily African-American parts of the deep South. Also, you'll notice the numbers seem low in Appalachia, especially eastern Kentucky. Lots of people tend to think of the military as a way out of rural poverty, but maybe not as many people avail themselves of that option as you'd think. (Or perhaps they do ... but then don't come back, instead continuing to live in proximity to the military community after getting out.)

The two counties with the lowest percentages of veterans are, not coincidentally, the two with the lowest overall population (both under 100 residents): Loving County, Texas, and Kalawao County, Hawaii, both with 0 percent veterans. However, in the bottom 10, they're followed by some of the nation's largest counties, often ones with a particularly large Latino population. It's hard to tell without zooming in on the map, but the nation's major cities tend to be disproportionately low on veterans (with the obvious exception of the Navy-dominated Norfolk/Virginia Beach metropolis). The bottom 10 are rounded out by Aleutians East, Alaska; Starr, Texas; Kings, New York (i.e. Brooklyn); Miami-Dade, Florida; Hudson, New Jersey (Jersey City); Webb, Texas (Laredo); Queens, New York; and New York, New York (Manhattan).

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Mon May 26, 2014 at 12:45 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos Elections.

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Comment Preferences

  •  when you try to relocate to less populated areas (16+ / 0-)

    the increasing distances to VA facilities or their clinics reinforces the necessity for ACA and ultimately universal healthcare

    So why do veterans tend to stay put when they get out of the service (or move to another area where veterans are clustered)? Part of it is cultural: it's where their friends from the service are, or it's also where their professional connections are, making it easier to get a private sector job. But part of it's also economic: some benefits that veterans enjoy follow them anywhere (like VA home loans), but others don't. Not all veterans qualify to be able to shop at a deeply-discounted PX or to use Tricare, but for those that do, there's a strong incentive to live within easy driving distance of an exchange or a VA medical facility. And the fact that it's such an important factor in so many people's decision about where to live means that it's very important for government to actually get veterans' health care right.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "If we appear to seek the unattainable, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable." (@eState4Column5)

    by annieli on Mon May 26, 2014 at 12:48:28 PM PDT

  •  It is not surprising that Kalawao County (6+ / 0-)

    has not veterans. It is basically on administrative district of Maui county on the island of Moloka'i that includes the former leper colony. When the area was no longer under quarantine, a number of the residents decided to stay.

  •  It would be interesting (8+ / 0-)

    to look at this by Indian reservation. I have the impression (no numbers to back it up) that American Indians are more likely to be veterans.

  •  southern boys don't fight? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, rat racer, WakeUpNeo

    What surprises -- shocks -- me is the white swath running up from Louisiana through Mississippi, Tennessee and into Kentucky, and the other one running from Georgia up into Kentucky. I had always thought that southern boys were disproportionately eager to sign up and go fight somebody.

    As you say, maybe it's that after getting their discharges they don't move back home. Does anybody know where there's a similar map showing the home counties of the veterans when they signed up?

    •  I'm from western nc - (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WakeUpNeo

      I know a lot of veterans here. I'm one, dad is one, son did 3 tours in Afghanistan. Most of my uncles, one was a Chinese interpreter in WW 2. Bro-in-law F-16 pilot. His daughter Army. Most of the funerals I've attended has the folded flag and honor guard shooting their blanks. Shall I go on?
       Shocking, right.

    •  They fight. They just marry northern (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WakeUpNeo

      girls.  And stay.  At least up here.

      Follow Connect! Unite! Act! MeetUp events! For live podcasting of your Event contact winkk to schedule.

      by winkk on Mon May 26, 2014 at 03:28:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is anecdotal, I know (6+ / 0-)

      but I'm retired army, and the all-volunteer army is made up disproportionally of people from rural areas in general, and from the rural mountain west and rural south in particular.  This is true for both the enlisted ranks and the officer corps.  When there was a Draft, the career enlisted cadre and the officer corps tended to be Southern and rural.  Now, with some exceptions, they tend to be the outdoorsy types with a tradition of military service in their families.  

      It is natural to return to their roots, though many will settle in rural areas that are not where they grew up.  Retirees tend to pick areas with a lower cost of living so that their retirement/retainer pay will go further.  Many stay near their last duty station because they were more senior and better-paid near retirement and bought houses in the area.  Many are in their early 40's, with kids in school, and didn't wish to uproot their families one more time.  Not to mention the availablility of the PX and Commissary, which can offer considerable savings, and a good chance that they can score a civilian job working on post.  A large part of the civilian work force on military bases is retired military.

    •  I'm thinking they don't go back home (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      truong son traveler, WakeUpNeo

      For many reasons.



      Women create the entire labor force.
      ---------------------------------------------
      Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

      by splashy on Mon May 26, 2014 at 07:49:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  While I keep veterans in my thoughts this day (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Angie in WA State, Aunt Pat

    I can't help but look at that map and wish that it was the actual results of an major national election cycle.

    The things we could do. The things we could do.

    "Real journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations." -George Orwell

    by LeftHandedMan on Mon May 26, 2014 at 01:20:30 PM PDT

  •  It is particularly tough for veterans to live a (5+ / 0-)

    long distance away from a VA Hospital or a VA Clinic.

    My sister in law came back home after serving in the Navy many years ago. Fortunatly a VA Clinic opened in her small central PA city but she has to travel by a medical van to the nearest VA Hospital about 2 hours. That is not bad at all compared to some other veteran friends of ours who lived 4 hours away from the nearest VA hospital. And in some areas, transportation to VA hospitals and clinics is not provided. And if you do, it is a long, long day as you live almost before daylight and return home later in the evening.

    Keystone Liberals on Twitter @ KeystoneLibs , Join PA Liberals at http://keystoneliberalsforum.aimoo.com/

    by wishingwell on Mon May 26, 2014 at 01:34:15 PM PDT

  •  Well I see HRC is going to have to commute (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    truong son traveler

    to find some vets, Westchester County apparently being more attractive to chickenhawks.  

  •  Stand Down for homeless Vets... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WakeUpNeo

    If you can help/donate.  A few years ago (and please just ignore any part of this that is about self-congratulation) I found out that there is one in my area.  I passed the word a bit about the need for volunteers and got a food donation from my local bagel store.  I think the store is still donating when the Stand Down is in the area.  

    Little enough, but not that hard for anyone to do.

    Best/sh

    http://nchv.org/...

  •  There are a lot of teeny tiny towns in Minnesota (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WakeUpNeo

    a few have generations of vets. They have monuments packed with names dating back to the Civil War in some cases - we were not a state yet but sent over 26,000 soldiers to fight for the Union. Wars impact these communities far more obviously than most, and they suffer from the void left behind by people who never lived to see midlife or those who succumbed to PTSD. Today I think of the sacrifice and loss such communities deal with every day. I want to do everything I can to prevent any more bright and promising lives from being destroyed. I am sure towns like this exist across America. I wonder what they could become with their populations of young people intact after serving in the military. We know they are willing to make the sacrifice, but we keep dishonoring that fact by sending them into senseless violence fueled by greed and profiteering, and refusing to properly take care of them and their families afterward. We have to stop. They deserve better.

    Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

    by bull8807 on Mon May 26, 2014 at 03:31:49 PM PDT

  •  Don't forget the role of life expectancy (3+ / 0-)

    Those Appalachian counties may have had lots of vets.  The WWII ones might be all dead, and most of the Korean ones, too.  Maybe some Vietnam.  With veterans disproportionately older, life expectancy plays a role in these maps.

    21, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (school)
    politicohen.com
    Idiosyncratic, pro-establishment. Liberal, not progressive. For the poor, the children, the planet, and the rule of law.
    UC Berkeley; I think I'm in the conservative half of this city.

    by jncca on Mon May 26, 2014 at 05:14:02 PM PDT

  •  Virginia Beach, VA (0+ / 0-)

    is very close to the HUGE Naval Station Norfolk, in the nearby city of Norfolk, VA.

  •  New York City has 2 large VA medical centers (0+ / 0-)

    one in the Bronx and one in Manhattan.

    I don't know why there are so few vets here but in fact I know very few post-WW2 vets around here.

  •  Well that's weird, I thought for sure (0+ / 0-)

    That the deep south would have much higher concentrations of veterans.  Especially so in the rural counties that are literally dying out.

  •  Commissary and Base Exchange (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WakeUpNeo

    Military retirees are allowed to shop at the Commissary (grocery store) and Exchange (similar to a Wal-Mart or Target).

    Prices are cheaper and tax free.

    That's one reason many retired military live close to a military base.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue May 27, 2014 at 02:29:09 AM PDT

  •  Arizona (0+ / 0-)

    As you mentioned, Cochise county has Fort Huachuca. Mohave, Yavapai, and La Paz counties are also veteran-heavy. They don't have major military bases, but they have a lot of retirees.

    SSP poster. 44, CA-6, -0.25/-3.90

    by sacman701 on Tue May 27, 2014 at 07:54:31 AM PDT

  •  Fall River county (0+ / 0-)

    doesn't have a military base, but adjoining Pennington county has Ellsworth AFB. Strangely though, most of the retired vets in Hot Springs are Army or Marine, not Air Force. Of note: The VA is trying to close the hospital in Hot Springs which would leave a 3+ hour drive for any vets living in Fall River. Not to mention one less facility and fewer nurses/docs to treat vets. Yea, don't fund the VA so we can waste it on yet another #Benghazi hearing.

    "Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news. Which follows its own special rules." ~ Douglas Adams

    by coyote66 on Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 07:40:32 AM PDT

  •  Since someone asked... (0+ / 0-)

    It may not be representative but I joined from Los Alamos, NM (yes that Los Alamos) and exited to Rapid City, SD. It didn't matter that there was a nearby base with a PX or VA facilities nearby, I didn't qualify for any of that. I grew up in Hot Springs and graduated HS in Los Alamos. I simply wanted to return to where I grew up and a majority of my family still was. Also I didn't retire, I just did two enlistments and got out. Though it is important that there is a VA facility here in Rapid City now. As I've been qualified for health care under the expansion of VA coverage for all vets without health care. (yay!)

    "Nothing travels faster than the speed of light, with the possible exception of bad news. Which follows its own special rules." ~ Douglas Adams

    by coyote66 on Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 07:51:36 AM PDT

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