Springs named No. 2 city for vets

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When it comes to the best places for military veterans to live, Colorado Springs ranks No. 2 among the 100 largest cities in the United States, according to a recent study by WalletHub analysts.

Rankings were based on 17 key indicators of livability, affordability and friendliness to veterans. Those categories range from the area’s share of military skill-related jobs to veterans’ income growth and availability of Veterans Administration health facilities.

The No. 1 city is Austin, Texas, with a composite score of 73.81 points. Colorado Springs is next with 72.29, followed by Virginia Beach, Va., with 68.36.

Denver is ranked No. 27 in the study with 57.54 points, while Aurora is 36th with 56.60.

In the “quality of life” category, the Springs ranks No. 1 with Austin coming in eighth.

“It’s important that the community is noted nationwide as a good place for veterans,” said retired Army Col. Bob McLaughlin, the COO of Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center. “We believe Mt. Carmel is an important part of that. This is a military friendly town. What makes veterans want to retire in Colorado Springs are the organizations that are here to assist them.”

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Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center opened March 3, 2016, and provides help with three core issues: employment and transition, benefits and resource assistance, and behavioral health and wellness.

“We partner with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and they have a location in our building,” McLaughlin said. “When a veteran is retiring or separating, their main concern is about employment. I’m always asked if it’s location or job that’s most important — I was lucky because I loved it here and I had a job waiting when I retired — but the first thing a veteran wants is to be employed.”

The study ranked Colorado Springs No. 16 in jobs for veterans, sixth for economy and 44th for health. McLaughlin said he thinks the low ranking for health is because the closest VA hospital is in Denver.

“There is a clinic here in Colorado Springs and the Veterans Choice Program allows them to seek private health care if they have to wait longer than 30 days for the VA,” McLaughlin said. “In my experience, more providers in town want to give their support through the Choice program.”

McLaughlin served in the Army for almost 29 years and was Fort Carson Garrison Commander from 2009-12. He spent the last two years of his career as chief of staff for U.S. forces in Afghanistan before retiring and beginning his work at Mt. Carmel.

“Veterans can walk in to Mt. Carmel and get support,” McLaughlin. “We’re proud to be part of this community and help those who served.”