From veteran and Gov. Ron DeSantis down through many legislative and municipal leaders, the call has been made to declare Florida the nation’s most “veteran-friendly” state, yet a new report suggests Florida may have a long way to go.
The report, from the consumer advocacy firm MagnifyMoney, ranks Florida 33rd nationally as a good home for veterans, based on the company’s assessment of veterans’ population trends, availability and ratings of care through Veterans Affairs facilities, and several economic factors such as median incomes and property taxes.
Florida officials dismissed the report Monday as too narrowly focused for them to take seriously. They argued that Florida is a far better place for veterans than the report suggests, and contended it does not adequately account for such Florida initiatives as in-state tuition rates for veterans and their families, several layers of property tax exemptions, and expanded veterans’ preference in government contracting.
They offered, as what they believe to be a more informative alternative rating, a recent WalletHub survey that rated four Florida cities, Tampa, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Jacksonville, among the best in the country for veterans to live in.
MagnifyMoney defended its measurements and assessments as outcome-based for veterans, not as a review of statewide policies. Their assessment, the company stated, does, in fact, take property tax exemptions into account in its veterans’ property tax numbers and suggested the other initiatives’ outcomes would be captured by the VA care ratings and the economic indicators such as income and unemployment rates.
The best state for veterans to live in, according to MagnifyMoney, is North Dakota, which in particular has the nation’s best ratings for VA health care. Hawaii, Wyoming, Alaska, and Virginia round out the overall top five. By contrast, the company declares that the worst state for veterans to live in is New Jersey, followed by New York, Illinois, California, and Oregon.
Florida ranked 32nd overall in combined population measurements, weighted down in large part by projections that the Sunshine State’s population of veterans is expected to drop by an annual rate of 2.1 percent, as a proportion of the overall population.
Florida ranked 28th in the combined VA scores, with a particularly low score for the number of inpatient, outpatient and veterans’ center facilities per 100,000 VA enrollees.
Florida ranked 39th in the combined economic scores. Although Florida has one of the lowest general population unemployment rates in the country, at 3.4 percent, the report stated that Florida’s unemployment rate among veterans is at 5 percent, one of the highest in the country. Alaska actually has a higher vets’ unemployment rate, at 6.5 percent. Yet Alaska vets have the nation’s third highest median income, $53,023, while Florida’s figure ranks 33rd, at $36,984.
“We do not believe that lower scores indicate apathy from elected officials, government workers, or other community members and leaders,” MagnifyMoney stated in a written response to Florida Politics. “The reasons for the differences in outcome are likely affected by the particular conditions and challenges each state faces.
“Florida has some of the best in-state tuition opportunities in the country for all residents [not just veterans], but our goal here was to provide as general an overview as possible for vets at various points in their lives, so we kept our analysis general and comparable across the states,” the statement continued. “It’s entirely possible that there are nuances of local policy that would be relevant to individual vets, which we are not able to capture, and it’s also possible that it will take a while for these policies to bear measurable fruit.”
Joe Marino, executive director of the Veterans Florida, contended Monday that the WalletHub study is more robust with what he called more-grounded methodology and assumptions and more data sets.
That report, released last fall, includes data on jobs, economy, health care, and quality of life. The study covered America’s 100 largest cities. Austin, Texas, came out on top. Tampa ranked 9th; Orlando, 10th; St. Petersburg, 20th; and Jacksonville, 22nd. Miami and Hialeah also made it into the top 40.
Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Communications Director R. Steven Murray, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, detailed a number of services, many of them unique to the Sunshine State, that Florida offers. In addition to the in-state tuitions, tax exemptions and veterans preferences, he pointed out there are extensive benefits including licensure and fee waivers for many occupations and high-quality care at the state’s own network of veterans’ homes.
“We’re a national leader in veterans’ services, benefits and support,” he stated.
And that doesn’t include the weather benefits Florida offers, in comparison with such states as North Dakota and Alaska.
“It’s no wonder so many veterans and their families chose to live in the Sunshine State,” Murray stated.
And that’s the point, MagnifyMoney stated.
“Where you choose to live can be one of the biggest financial decisions you make,” the company’s statement said. “At MagnifyMoney, our mission is to help people lead financially healthy lives. We make that a reality by providing consumers with free information, tools and calculators.”