WASHINGTON — A new government report paints a dire picture of the employment prospects of returning military veterans, concluding that young veterans earn less and have a harder time finding work than do civilians in the same age group.

WASHINGTON — A new government report paints a dire picture of the employment prospects of returning military veterans, concluding that young veterans earn less and have a harder time finding work than do civilians in the same age group.

The report prepared for the Veterans Affairs Department found that the percentage of veterans not in the labor force — because they couldn't find jobs, stopped looking for work, or went back to school — jumped to 23 percent in 2005 from 10 percent in 2000. Half of the young veterans — ages 20 to 24 — with steady employment earned less than $25,000 per year, it found.

Young veterans "face career challenges when transitioning from the military service to the civilian work force," and suffer from higher unemployment than their civilian peers, the report said.

"Transitioning into civilian life and the work force requires help and guidance," the report concluded. "The federal government might consider reevaluating or refining how it serves"¦these returning young service members to ensure a successful transition process."

Public attention has long focused on the death toll from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of Americans killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion rose to 4,000 Sunday, a milestone the White House described as a "sober moment." Last year was the deadliest year for U.S. forces fighting in the two countries.

But military and civilian policy makers increasingly are concerned about a different aspect of the long wars—the physical, mental and financial well-being of the young veterans who leave the military and attempt to reintegrate into the civilian world.

Many veterans are struggling with physical wounds and psychological maladies such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause depression, sleeplessness and even suicide. Arthur Blank, a national expert on PTSD, testified in federal court this month that as many as 30 percent of the combat veterans from the two wars eventually could be diagnosed with the disorder.

Even for military personnel who make it through the wars unscathed, adjusting back to civilian life — and finding a stable job — can be difficult.

A survey in November by military.com, a division of online recruitment site Monster.com., found that 81 percent of returning military veterans didn't feel fully prepared to enter the work force. Of that figure, 76 percent said they were unable to translate their military skills to the civilian world, and 72 percent felt unprepared to negotiate salary or benefits.

"They come from a lifestyle where every day they're told what to wear and what to do, and suddenly they're on their own," said Todd Bowers, the director of government affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization in New York. "A lot of veterans have a very hard time finding and keeping work."

The new government report, which hasn't been publicly released, highlights some of the challenges facing veterans seeking stable employment in the civilian world.

The Army has long pitched military service as a way for recruits to gain valuable work experience, but the report found that most of the returning veterans were unable to find civilian jobs that matched their previous military occupations.

The only exceptions were the veterans working for private-security firms such as Blackwater or in the maintenance and repair fields, and the report suggested that the government steer veterans to those types of jobs.

"Perhaps it would be helpful to promote jobs "¦ that match their military skills and in which their military skills can be applied," the report said.

Many of the government's efforts to help returning veterans find work appear to be falling short, the report found.

The Veterans Affairs Department offers educational-assistance programs for young veterans, but the report said the initiatives had little impact on the employment status or salaries of the former military personnel.

"Receiving VA educational assistance was not statistically related to being employed or having a high salary," the report concluded.

Representatives for the Veterans Affairs Department didn't return calls seeking comment on the study or its conclusions.