WASHINGTON – More than 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were unemployed in January, far higher than the national jobless rate and the highest since the government began collecting data on veterans in 2005, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday.

That rate could go even higher if the U.S. military begins winding down operations in Afghanistan and a flood of veterans return home looking for work, a veterans' advocate said.

"These numbers need to be a wake up call for all Americans because there is really no excuse for this," said Todd Bowers, deputy executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The government said 15.2 percent of veterans were out of work in January, up from 12.6 percent the same month a year ago. This compares with a overall U.S. unemployment rate of 9.0 percent seasonally adjusted and 9.8 percent without adjustment. The government data for veterans is only presented without adjusting for seasonal differences.

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