Early Friday morning, more than a dozen veterans and their supporters, or “patriots,” gathered at the 40 et 8 Chateau over coffee to consider how they could improve the prominence of their spirit in Vancouver.
These Community Military Appreciation Committee members raise funds and plan for Vancouver’s various veterans’ events, memorials and scholarships for Gold Star families. Despite operating on a shoestring budget, the committee and similar local groups serve as a prominent backbone for Vancouver’s veterans.
This value isn’t used as a metric in national studies determining a community’s friendliness toward those who served, but Vancouver has nevertheless become one of the top U.S. cities for retired veterans.
SmartAsset, a company focused on publishing financial advice informed by data, has ranked Vancouver as America’s fifth-best city for military retirees. Vancouver, which Census data reported had nearly 12,000 veteran residents in 2020, was honored for the second year in a row.
But how was it determined?
SmartAssest created the list by comparing 200 of the largest U.S. cities across three categories: military retirement friendliness, resources for veterans and a city’s economic environment.
Metrics included an area’s population of veterans 65 or older, retirement communities per 1,000, veteran health facilities per 100,000, an estimated senior tax burden and the job market. It drew its findings from multiple data sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Each category was rated on a scale of 100, with 100 being the best, and then ranked based on a city’s average score.
Vancouver averaged 73.33 across all categories, placing it closely behind Lakewood, Colo., 73.68; Sioux Falls, S.D., 73.78; Roseville, Calif., 75.24; and Anchorage, Alaska, 77.92.
Veteran recognition and a rich military history appear in multiple ways throughout Vancouver, from its Remembrance Wall near City Hall to the still-standing Vancouver Barracks, the first established U.S. Army post in the region, dating back to 1849.
Mike Burton, retired Air Force officer and Community Military Appreciation Committee vice chair, decided to uproot himself from Portland more than a decade ago. After a friend suggested Vancouver as a worthy contender, Burton identified the “usual suspects.”
His intention was to find a house he’d be happy to die in without paying a fortune or being torn from the region’s glorious Douglas firs. Burton was content staying in the chilly weather and around intimidating volcanoes, as long as his winter trips to the area’s full-service military hospital wouldn’t lead to greater injury.
Vancouver checked all of his boxes — and then some.
Burton found that there was more to the city’s veteran-friendly status than its price tag: its treatment of service members. It was the vital element that SmartAsset couldn’t quantify.
“There seems to be a constant awareness of military people, contributions and sacrifices,” he said. “It means a great deal.”
Larry Smith, Community Military Appreciation Committee chair and former senior Army adviser for the 104th Training Division at the Vancouver Barracks, added that veterans are great assets for the public. They fill roles as teachers, bus drivers and volunteers, continuing to contribute to the fabric of their community post-service.
Local institutions like the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center and the America for Veterans Foundation are crucial in supporting homeless veterans, whether it’s by providing food and clothing without asking questions or developing a shelter village for homeless female veterans.
American Legion Smith-Reynolds Post 14 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7824 serve as social hubs where members can find camaraderie through joking, sharing stories or asking for support.
Salmon for Soldiers, although not based in Vancouver, helps local veterans with PTSD rededicate themselves to living through the stillness and relaxation that fishing provides.
Although not addressed by national surveys, this work doesn’t go unnoticed.
The Stars and Stripes National Museum and Library recognized Vancouver in August for its “ongoing embrace and dedication to the principles of informed citizenship, commitment and service in our democratic society.” It touched on the presence of historical, civic, public and private groups in Vancouver that honor its military community.
For these reasons, Smith wasn’t surprised to see Vancouver highly recognized for its veteran-friendliness.
“It’s the attitude of the folks,” he said: “folks that haven’t served but still do outreach and make veterans feel appreciated.”