Pittsburgh region touted as great place to live for young veterans

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With low housing costs, a low unemployment rate, well-known universities and access to good health care services, Pittsburgh is the top place for veterans leaving the service and looking for a place to live in the United States, according to a recent survey.

“The transition is hard, especially for this generation that's been worked big time,” said Ward Carroll, editor of Military.com and Navy veteran, referring to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “They've had a job that's had a big consequence.”

The survey, conducted by Sperling's Best Places, is the third commissioned by USAA, a San Antonio-based financial services company and Military.com., a military information site.

While previous surveys focused on retiring veterans and those with more than 20 years of service, the survey that named Pittsburgh tops for 2012 focused on younger veterans who had been in service for about five years and are looking for a new life and career.

The list is meant to “stimulate the young veterans thinking about where they want to live. Many go back to their hometowns and families. That may be a good avenue or it may not be,” said Scott Halliwell, 45, a Homer City native and a certified financial planner with USAA. “We're trying to give people a different way to think.”

Some things can improve, said some veterans, including how medical, disability and other claims from those leaving the service are handled.

“There are so many troops coming back, the infrastructure, per se, sometimes has a hard time keeping up with that number,” said Brian Hall, 34, of Enola, Cumberland County, an Air Force veteran who is a student and president of the veterans organization at the Penn State Mont Alto campus in Franklin County.

Many veterans are using the Post 9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act, in which the government pays for secondary education for veterans who have served at least three years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

There are an estimated 160,000 veterans living in Southwest Pennsylvania, according to government studies. Local veterans organizations, said John Cyprian, head of Butler County's Veterans Affairs office, are not only helping their own, but reaching into the community.

“They're non-profit (organizations) trying to help anybody to do anything. There's nothing too big or too small that they'll try to do,” Cyprian said.

At a Student Veterans Education and Employment conference Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh, veterans cited popular Veterans Day parades and access to health care through the Veterans Affairs facilities in the region as pluses for the region.

“We do have a lot of support here,” said Jesse Blake, 29, of Fox Chapel, a Marine who is studying at Pen State New Kensington. He mentioned organizations like Operation Troop Appreciation, which sends care packages to overseas troops.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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