Military Times evaluated 581 places, as designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, dividing them into 265 small cities with populations of fewer than 75,000; 240 medium-sized cities with populations of at least 75,000 but fewer than 200,000; and 76 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, unemployment and commute time data came from 2014 Census surveys, the most recent available information. Population growth data came from comparing 2013 and 2014 Census surveys.

Military installation information came from the Defense Department's 2014 Demographics Profile of the Military Community, the most recent such report available. In the case of joint bases, individual components may be reflected.

VA health and benefits facilities information came from the Veterans Affairs Department website. Crime report data came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting data for 2014, also the most recent available information, which combines property and violent crime.

Ratings from GreatSchools measured area schools collectively on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best.

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 2015 America's Health Rankings Annual Report, which provided state-by-state data. The other is the 2016 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 2015 Report.
  • The Cost of Living Index 2015 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 2013-14 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 2015 State Report Card.
  • Overall state and local taxation by state, as reported by the Tax Foundation's 2016 Facts & Figures report.

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 of each of our six other 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 Best for Vets: 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 2016

T

Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2016

B

Best for Vets: Business Schools 2016

E

Best for Vets: Employers 2016

F

Best for Vets: Franchises 2016

L

Best for Vets: Law Enforcement 2015