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Veterans’ Income Advantage Widest in Virginia: BGOV Barometer

November 16, 2012

It pays to be a veteran, and nowhere more so than in the Pentagon’s home state of Virginia, where ex-military personnel take home almost 72 percent more than those who’ve never served.

The BGOV Barometer shows the median annual income for veterans is an average of 44 percent more than for nonveterans nationwide, and even higher in states with big military bases such as South Carolina, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. One reason for the gap is many veterans retire early from the military, and simultaneously collect federal pensions and paychecks from their second careers.

The disparity underscores a divide between older veterans and newly returned troops struggling to find work, said Ramsey Sulayman, legislative associate for the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The jobless rate for veterans who served after the 2001 terrorist attacks was 10 percent last month compared with 7.4 percent for nonveterans, according to federal data.

“I was a little bit surprised, especially to see that level of discrepancy throughout most of the states,” Sulayman said in a phone interview. “I think it also indicates how veterans tend to be successful when they are in the job market, when they are working. The problem is getting them working in some cases.”

‘Black Hole’

The veteran population is older, whiter, and more likely to be male and have at least a high school degree than the general population, said Sulayman, whose nonprofit organization is based in New York. All those groups tend to have higher incomes, he said.

“When you look at younger veterans, when you look at those with less education, military service can be kind of a black hole for them,” he said. “Not all hiring managers understand how military skills translate.”

Many older veterans are military retirees who work in second careers while collecting a pension for their service, which contributes to the discrepancy, he said.

The 2011 U.S. Census data compiled by Bloomberg includes salaries, disability compensation, military and other pensions, welfare and Social Security payments.

“Income is more than just salaries,” said Amy Love, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Her state had the fifth-biggest income discrepancy, with a median income of $35,063 for veterans compared with $21,591 for nonveterans, according to the data compiled by Bloomberg.

Biggest Navy Base

Military pensions play a role in South Carolina veterans’ incomes, Love said. The state has a large number of military retirees, mostly because of its relatively large active-duty population, she said. There are eight military bases in South Carolina.

Virginia, where the median income is $48,553 for veterans compared with $28,266 for nonveterans, has about 20 military bases. It is home to the world’s largest naval station, in Norfolk. It also has four of the top 10 federal contractors, according to a Bloomberg Government ranking of the top 200 vendors.

Three of the top 10 are located in northern Virginia near the Pentagon. They are General Dynamics Corp. (GD:US) and Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC:US), both based in Falls Church; and SAIC Inc. (SAI:US), a technology company based in McLean.

Alabama Veterans

Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HII:US) is based in Newport News in southeastern Virginia.

“We have so many military personnel who retire here,” John Broadway, head of the Virginia Employment Commission, said in an interview. “A lot of them either work for federal contractors, become federal contractors themselves, or take jobs working for the U.S. government as civil servants. The pay for all of those jobs is above average.”

Veterans in Alabama, where veterans’ median income is about 71 percent more than nonveterans’, are helped by the city of Huntsville, which has made it a mission to attract defense jobs. Redstone Arsenal, a hub for space-related projects, is based in the Huntsville area.

The city was named one of the best places for military retirees seeking second careers, according to a 2011 survey commissioned by the United Services Automobile Association, a San Antonio, Texas-based insurance and financial services provider known as USAA, and, an online news organization.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Miller in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Stoughton at

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