Twenty-six years in the Army. Four years in the Navy. That represents Bennie Edwards' military career.
The Alabama native, now 72, said he had no qualms about returning to Fort Wayne, where he spent his pre-teen and high school years, to eventually retire.
But future military retirees might opt to spend their golden years someplace other than the Hoosier State if they pay attention to what personal finance website WalletHub said it found in a recent study.
Indiana didn't fare well when WalletHub compared with the 50 states and the District of Columbia using 27 key indicators of “retirement-friendliness toward veterans.” The indicators included job opportunities, housing affordability and quality of VA hospitals, according to a news release the website issued just before Memorial Day.
Based on the number of VA health facilities per veteran, Indiana ranked 28th and for the number of VA benefits-administration facilities, 49th.
For the percentage of veteran-owned businesses, Indiana was 33rd, and was 30th for percentage of homeless veterans.
Based on the number of veterans per capita, Indiana ranked 38th.
Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Alabama and South Carolina, in that order, were the best states for military retirees. Oregon and the District of Columbia were last on the list.
Overall, Indiana ranked 42nd. But a couple of indicators were more positive. For housing affordability, Indiana was seventh and for veteran job opportunities, eighth.
Ranking first was considered best and 25th in a category suggests average. WalletHub assigned weighted scores on various criteria in retirement categories, using data from sources ranging from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and Census Bureau to the National Conference of State Legislatures and its own research.
“Retirement is typically viewed as the end of the line – a time for rest, relaxation and the pursuit of interests long ago put on the back burner,” WalletHub said in a news release on the study. “But the story is far different for military retirees who must deal with the trials of reassimilation into civilian life.”
Considering state tax policies and military benefits, retirement can be complicated, WalletHub said.
When Edwards considers Indiana, he rattles off numerous support systems and amenities for veterans such as a National Guard base in Fort Wayne and veterans hospitals including in Marion and Indianapolis. Among others, Edwards also mentioned Fort Harrison near Lawrence and numerous American Legion Posts – roughly five in Fort Wayne, he said, along with a couple of homeless shelters.
“There's opportunities for veterans locally,” said Edwards, leader of the local Martin Luther King Jr. Club.
“I've been lucky and been blessed. … I haven't had any problems in terms of receiving services.”
The primary mission of the Allen County Council of Veterans Organizations is to help Allen County veterans in need. Council Commander Jim Olds said that is sometimes done through finding money or taking on projects that will help keep veterans in their homes.
Unemployment, underemployment and homelessness among veterans are concerns, and some have voiced concerns about the VA, but “actually we've got a nice VA here,” Olds said.
“Overall, Fort Wayne is a good place for everyone,” he said. “Indiana is a bad place for military retirements as far as state benefits and jobs.”
Tibor Bierbaum was born in Hungary and emigrated to the U.S., retiring in 1980 from the Army after 21 years of service. His last military assignment was in Massachusetts. Bierbaum initially planned to go back to Colorado, where he had land and a house design already in mind. A teaching opportunity at Concordia Lutheran High School lured him to Indiana.
“I wanted to teach where students wanted to learn. I didn't want to waste my time and my effort,” Bierbaum said, noting he traded the mountains for cornfields and soybeans and says “Indiana had the perfect four seasons.”
He doesn't regret it. Bierbaum, 78, is content with a health insurance plan he qualified for with his military service. He also noted the VA facilities in Indiana.
Retirees have to be flexible, Bierbaum said. For him and his wife, who died in 2003, employment opportunities and schools were priorities. “All the other things were available,” he said.
Recently, Bierbaum said he told someone that his roots in Indiana are so deep “that not even a tornado can pull them out.”