Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Veterans drawn to "the sticks"

The San Francisco Chronicle today ran a Veterans Day feature about the attraction of rural places to veterans, with a focus on Esmeralda County, Nevada, population 832.  Esmeralda County is said to have the second highest per capita concentration of veterans among all U.S. counties, beaten out only by Fall River County, South Dakota (population 6,839).  Nationally, 36 percent of veterans live in rural areas, whereas just 24 percent resided in rural places 14 years ago.  In sharp contrast, just 4.5 % of San Francisco residents are veterans.  

Reporter Kevin Fagan speculates on the reasons for the attraction, and he also discusses and benefits of rural living for vets.  Regarding the former, there is little doubt that "part of the allure is affordability."
Veterans in rural areas are older on average, and Social Security and military pensions go a lot further in a place like Esmeralda County, where homes can be had for a few thousand dollars and entertainment is more oriented toward roaming the countryside than dining at foodie meccas. 
But veterans and federal officials say that as much as anything, the attraction of sparsely populated areas is their independent, uncluttered nature.
Fagan depicts Esmeralda County as relatively lawless--or at least light on regulation--writing that vets  
come to escape the big-city hum, to live life in wide-open, high-desert country where they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and pretty much however they want.
He notes, for example, the lack of a residential building code.

Fagan quotes Tom Klobucar, deputy director of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health.  
If you’ve been in the military, you already have discipline and self-reliance.  You need that in a rural area, and a since a lot of vets feel a need to get away from the hustle-bustle, that’s where they end up.
Klobucar also opines on the burden of distance for the nation's many rural vets.  Those in Esmeralda County, for example, mostly have to drive the 180 miles to Las Vegas for VA health services.  

Fagan also features and quotes several Esmeralda County vets, including Dave Beth, 66, who moved there seven years ago after 42 years of Navy aviation duty and military civilian work in Phoenix:
In this kind of land, you just get this calm peacefulness you don’t find much of anywhere else. 
Liking this is a hard thing to describe to most folks. But, funny enough, not to veterans. We get it. It’s our kind of place.
Oh, and as for the headline on this post, I draw it from a line of Fagan's story, referring to rural places as "the sticks."  Which I guess is fair enough given that one of the other veterans Fagan features has "hillbilly" tattooed on his cheek because, he says, it reminds me who he is when he looks in the mirror.    

No comments: