Las Vegas has the fastest growing population of veterans in the country. Veteran in the Valley is a column focusing on the strange transition from soldier to civilian in Las Vegas and the veterans that call this city home.
Why We’re Here
You don’t need to look very hard to notice those blue and white “Veteran” licence plates around Las Vegas. The city has a large population of former service members, and the numbers are continuing to grow. The addition of the nation’s newest VA medical center in North Las Vegas was a $1 billion response to this situation, but even when the facility is fully opened (only the first floor is operational at this point), it will still be far too small to accommodate the increasing veteran population.
But, why are there so many veterans in Las Vegas in the first place? Sure, we have Nellis Air Force Base (Thanks, guys) and the usual snowbirds and retirees who happened to have worn the uniform in the past, but I think that Sin City has something else that draws vets in.
I made some great friends in the Army; friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. Serving in a war, you get to know the guys to your left and right in a uniquely intimate and surreal way. But deployments end, new assignments come in, people get shipped off to other bases, and some of those great friends you made just kind of fade off into memories.
One of the things that I think draws veterans to Las Vegas is the generally transient lifestyle that the city has going for it. People come and go here all the time. You can meet people and hang out for a few months, and then they’re gone; off to the next big adventure. In this weird way, Las Vegas is a lot like the military.
You can go out to any bar or casino in the city and make a great friend for the evening. Sometimes you’ll meet people that you stay in contact with; other times you just part ways, and that’s the end of it. I’m not sure if veterans like these kinds of interactions, but I know we’re good at them. We had to be in order to survive the constant coming and going of people and the shifts from base to base.
Las Vegas mimics this shifting in a way that other urban areas don’t. Add in the smoke-em-if-you-got-em attitude here, it’s almost like being back in the barracks, for better or worse. Many veterans suffer from a lack of direction when they leave the structured life of the military. Is it so odd that they would naturally gravitate to a city that resembles the ordered chaos of military life?
ArtsVegas: Covering Las Vegas Art and culture since 2009.
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