Rolly: Utah one of worst states for veterans, according to ranking

By PAUL ROLLY

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: May 26, 2014 10:02PM
Updated: May 26, 2014 10:05PM
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Paul Rolly

Utah has boasted rankings at or near the top in various studies that measure best-managed state, best state to do business and nerdiest state.

So a recent ranking published by WalletHub, a national social-networking think tank that conducts various “best and worst” studies comparing states and cities, was a bit puzzling.

The ranking, released in time for Memorial Day, rates Utah 40th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia when it comes to living conditions for military retirees.

The study lists three basic categories for its analysis: economic environment, quality of life and health care.

The first category includes the state tax on military pensions, state and local sales taxes, veteran-owned businesses per 1,000 inhabitants, volume of Defense Department contracts, veterans’ job opportunities, number of major military bases and installations per 10,000 veterans, housing costs and cost of living.

The quality-of-life category includes the number of veterans per 100 inhabitants, number of Veterans Benefits Administration facilities per number of veterans, the university system, arts, leisure and recreation establishments per 100,000 inhabitants, percentage of population over age 40, number of homeless veterans per number of veterans and weather conditions.

Health care includes the number of VA facilities per number of veterans, number of federal, state and local hospitals per 100,000 inhabitants, number of physicians per 100,000 inhabitants and emotional health.

Utah ranked 23rd in the economic category, 46th in quality of life and 31st in health care.

With the number of recreational opportunities in Utah, the low quality-of-life ranking is surprising, especially since the state usually scores near the top in this category.

Utah ranked 47th in the number of veterans per 100 inhabitants, so that low number may have skewed the results. The Beehive State ranked 50th in veteran-owned businesses.

But if one looks at legislation and state policies, it would appear Utah is a friendly state for veterans.

A few years ago, the Legislature helped fund veterans nursing homes in Ogden, Payson and Ivins, just outside St. George.

The Legislature considered 14 bills dealing with veterans issues this year, including one to help with college tuition and another to include a red, white and blue star on a veteran’s driver license to expedite getting certain benefits and discounts without having to carry around cumbersome documentation.

The governor’s office points to a number of initiatives with special consideration given to veterans at the Department of Workforce Services, including job-priority status and listings of companies that favor hiring veterans. In 2013, DWS facilitated 16,000 job placements for veterans.

Meanwhile, the top 10 states for veterans were, in order, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, Oklahoma and Maine.

California got the lowest score, followed by New York, Indiana, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island and Arkansas.

In all, according to the report, red states were generally friendlier to veterans than blue states.

prolly@sltrib.com