How Military Retirement Communities Benefit Veterans
December 29, 2015 | Enjoying Retirement
By Alaina Tweddale
When Capt. Robert Sage began researching retirement communities, he ranked the five factors that were most important to his decision. As a retired U.S. Navy veteran who served for 30 years, proximity to military services and facilities placed third on his wish list. (Being close to his kids was No. 1, and affordability was No. 2.)
Most military veterans retire twice—once from their military post and then again from the civilian career that followed it. Veterans who forged strong cultural and personal ties while in the military sometimes seek a military-centric retirement community at the end of that second career.
“No one really understands a veteran’s history better than another veteran,” said Ellie Kay, author of Heroes at Home: Help and Hope for America’s Military Families. “Work ethic, values and a lot of things are different in a civilian sector from what they experienced in the military sector. So, after they’ve had a second career and they’re ready to retire from that, many are kind of drawn back to the profession of their youth.”
Sage agreed. He retired six years ago to Atlantic Shores Retirement Community in Virginia Beach, Virginia, a resident-governed cooperative community and home to a large number of retired military. What he likes most about living around so many other retired veterans is “the continuum in my lifestyle of the military culture and the band of brothers of shared experiences,” he said.
Retirement options available to veterans can vary depending on factors such as rank or years of service. If you’re a veteran considering a military or military-centric retirement community, here’s what you’ll want to know.
Government-Affiliated Retirement Homes
On a federal level, the U.S. government operates the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) as a safe, affordable retirement option for enlisted veterans and warrant officers with at least 20 years of active duty service. The two branches, located in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., are meant for independent living, although in-house assisted living care may later be available. Spouses are welcome only if they’re veterans themselves and meet the entrance guidelines.
Each U.S. state, meanwhile, runs at least one Veterans Affairs (VA) retirement home (some have several) for low-income veterans who want to live alongside fellow former members of the armed forces. Requirements for VA homes vary from state to state, and some extend membership to the upper levels of civil service.
“There’s a huge waiting list for most of these retirement homes because there are so many veterans who want to get into these,” said Kay. “VA homes are where you really get into tremendous benefits.” The homes are cost effective, she added, and veterans have built-in companions.
Eligibility requirements for state homes vary based on supply and demand, Kay said.
Nonprofit Military Officer Retirement Communities
While there are no federally operated retirement communities for career military officers, there are several nonprofit retirement communities that cater to officers from all seven uniformed branches, their families and, in some instances, military widows, too.
For senior officers who “grew up” in a military culture, it can be comforting to settle down in a community such as the Army Distaff Foundation’s Knollwood in Washington, D.C., or Vinson Hall in McLean, Virginia.
Public Retirement Communities Near a Military Base
Some retired veterans—such as Sage—seek a strong military presence but don’t necessarily need a community that caters specifically to retired veterans. In San Antonio, Texas, the two campuses of Blue Skies of Texas (formerly known as Air Force Villages) are located near Lackland Air Force Base and house a substantial military population, yet they are also open to the public.
“One of the reasons retired veterans may be attracted to an area is they stay in touch with the people they served with throughout their career,” said Kay. “They find out, ‘Oh, we’re living in this community, it’s really veteran friendly, and there are a lot of programs available that cater to veterans.’”
That’s been one of the attractions for Sage.
“You have the ability to choose military-related services or professional organizations that you can participate in,” he said. “That is particularly true here in the Tidewater area because of the large number of military organizations representing all branches of the military. For example, I am a volunteer docent at the nearby Military Aviation Museum, which I love,” he said.
In addition to lifestyle preferences, affordability is an important part of the equation. There are substantial cost savings for retired veterans who have access to a military base. According to Kay, there is a 20 to 30 percent discount on groceries at the commissary, gas is cheaper and there may be free access to classes and counseling on topics such as budgeting and retirement planning.
The more benefits you can access because you’re near a military community, Kay said, the lower your out-of-pocket expenses and the more money you’ll have left over to spend on your grandchildren.
“People love the community they had while serving in the military,” said Kay. “It’s a noble purpose, protecting our nation’s freedom. Those were sometimes the best years of their lives. They’re kind of drawn back to that.”
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.
Alaina Tweddale is a freelance business writer whose work has appeared on MSN Money, Time.com, Business Insider, and Motley Fool, among others.