By Patrick Burgard, news staff
Boston is the fifth worst city in the U.S. for veterans, according to a recent study—but not everyone agrees.
The study, called “2016’s Best & Worst Places for Veterans to Live,” was released on Nov. 7 by WalletHub.com and measured cities based on four factors: Employment, economy, quality of life and health. These factors were assessed by 21 metrics ranging from percentage of military skill-related jobs to weather and access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health facilities. The report then ranked 100 of the most populated cities in America in each category, not including the metropolitan areas around each city.
In the report, Boston was ranked number 96 overall, number 57 in jobs for veterans, number 82 for veteran health care, number 94 in economy and number 100—dead last—in quality of life for veterans.
Max Spahn, a Marine Corps veteran who serves as the commander of Northeastern’s on-campus Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, has a different take.
“What drew me to Boston was the support for veterans, and the community that I missed from being active duty was right here for me,” said Spahn, a senior psychology major. “In Boston, homelessness is down and jobs are up – it’s really the best city this veteran has ever experienced.”
San Diego, where Spahn was stationed, was ranked the eighth best city in America for veterans in the same report.
It’s also true that veteran homelessness is way down in Boston. In 2014, Walsh and the City of Boston launched an initiative to address homelessness in Boston following the closure of the Long Island Bridge, which provided access to the city’s largest homeless shelter at the time, according to an Oct. 8, 2015 WBUR report.
“We have ended chronic veteran homelessness in Boston,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced in a Nov. 7 statement. “Through our ‘Homes for the Brave’ initiative, we have housed nearly 800 veterans, and cut the overall number of homeless veterans by 44 percent in just over two years.”
There may be some merit to the report’s claims, however. Milton Lashus, adjutant of the American Legion Department of Massachusetts, said the city’s high cost of living makes Boston less desirable for veterans.
“It costs a lot more to live in the city than the suburbs,” Lashus said. “If you’re taking a job with a remedial salary like many veterans are, it makes it a lot harder to pay rent in the city.”
A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study in September 2014 reported that Boston had the eighth-highest cost of living in the country.
While at least the livability of Boston for veterans is in question, Spahn said Northeastern does an excellent job caring for its veterans, citing the university’s 82 percent veteran graduation rate compared to approximately 50 percent nationwide.
“Our employment is huge,” Spahn said. “Veterans get placed all around the country doing research, med schools, finance, business—everything. And they’re getting hired as managers.”
This is particularly important for veterans between 18 and 24 years old — the unemployment rate for this demographic was as high as 30.2 percent in 2011, nearly twice that of civilians of the same age bracket, according to a 2012 Prudential report on the challenges of veteran readjustment to civilian life. The same report conducted a survey in which 69 percent of veterans listed finding a job, as a civilian, as their greatest challenge when returning from service.
Spahn said other schools should follow the lead of Northeastern, which has the most veterans of any private college or university in the state. Northeastern provides free parking for veterans and covers the remainder of textbook costs that the GI Bill only partially does, Spahn said.
The university maintains a Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Service members, which works to make sure the veterans enrolled at Northeastern can graduate and find a job, in addition to the on-campus VFW post at Northeastern.
“I chose Northeastern because of its veteran services. I knew that it had a big veteran community,” Spahn said. “Knowing that you’re not going to stick out and be alone is important.”
Photo Courtesy Tim Sackton, Creative Commons