Story | Large city rankings | Medium city rankings | Small city rankings

For the Military Times Best Place to Live rankings, formerly known as Best for Vets: Places to Live, we evaluated 577 places, as designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, dividing them into 254 small cities with populations of fewer than 75,000; 244 medium-sized cities with populations of at least 75,000 but fewer than 200,000; and 79 large cities with populations of 200,000 or more.

We compared locations across three broad categories: veteran and military culture and services, economic indicators — some veteran-specific and some not — and livability factors such as crime, health, school quality and traffic. Each of the three categories were of comparable value in the evaluation, but economic indicators and veteran and military culture and services were weighed more heavily than livability factors. Including all data points measured, slightly more than half of the evaluation was based on metrics specific to veterans or the military, while the rest was based on metrics applicable to the population as a whole.

Population, home price, rent, income and unemployment data came from 2015 Census surveys, the most recent available information.

Installation information came from the Defense Department’s 2015 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, the most recent such report available. In the case of joint bases, individual components may be reflected.

Crime report data came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting data for 2015, also the most recent available information. We combined data on property and violent crime. Statistics for Vermont may not reflect 12 months of data due to technical issues at multiple agencies across the state.

GreatSchools rating data come from the national nonprofit GreatSchools, which uses a 1-10 scale to rate schools, with 10 being the best. We used GreatSchools ratings to calculate an average rating at the county level.

Area health data, where 4 stars represents the best, came from an equal average of two data sources. One is the United Health Foundation’s 2016 America’s Health Rankings Annual Report, which provided state-by-state data. The other is the 2017 County Health Rankings from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which provided county-by-county data.

In addition, we took into consideration a substantial amount of data not listed on these pages, coming from a variety of sources, including:

  • Costs of institutional child care as measured by Child Care Aware of America's Parents and the High Cost of Child Care 2016 Report.
  • The Cost of Living Index 2016 Annual Average Data by the Council for Community and Economic Research.
  • The number of nearby colleges and universities, as well as the relative number of students at those institutions using military tuition assistance or the Post-9/11 GI Bill in the 2014-15 fiscal year, as reported by the Education Department.
  • Veteran-specific taxation, hiring and treatment policies by state, as reported by the Military Officers Association of America's 2017 State Report Card.
  • Overall state and local taxation by state, as reported by the Tax Foundation's 2017 Facts & Figures report.
  • VA health, benefits and cemetery facilities from the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

We also relied on information from the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan, as well as the Missouri Census Data Center, to link data representing different types of geographic areas.

Finally, the number of nearby organizations listed in the most recent editions of our other Military Times Best and Best for Vets rankings was considered when evaluating locations. The associated column shows letters to represent corresponding rankings if at least one such organization was listed in those rankings and was located within 25 miles of the city. In the case of our rankings of franchises, the designation was made if at least one listed company offered franchising opportunities in the state. The coins represent the following rankings:

C Best for Vets: Colleges 2017

T Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2017

E Best for Vets: Employers 2017

F Best for Vets: Franchises 2017

Natalie Gross has been reporting for Military Times since 2017. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.

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