As we head into this holiday season, we remember that among our many blessings is that we indeed live in the land of the free and the brave.  

Our liberties extend to our free marketplace, where hard work, talent and determination can lead to almost unlimited career opportunities.  Ironically, the brave men and women who have proudly served and sacrificed so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy are struggling to find their opportunity to pursue the American Dream.

Officials at the U.S. Labor Department say that unemployment among veterans age 18-24 years old tops 20 percent, compared with the national rate of about nine percent.  And the situation is expected to worsen after 10,000 service members return from Afghanistan and 46,000 come home from Iraq by year’s end — many of whom wounded or suffering from mental trauma. A major factor in veteran high unemployment rate is their struggle with fitting in, adjusting to civilian life and a vast majority struggle with depression and other emotional anguish without seeking mental help, given its perceived stigma.

As we bring back 10,000 service members from Afghanistan and 46,000 come home from Iraq by year’s end, the situation will only become worse— and these veterans are returning to a drastically different economy from when they enlisted.

Last week Congress approved a new bill, “Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” which will give tax incentives to private sector companies that hire unemployed veterans. This effort joins several other government efforts to appeal to Corporate America to address this issue.

But I believe as a country we owe our veterans so much more. I believe that Corporate America needs to do more. Companies need to dedicate resources for the recruitment and training of veterans; taking into account the unique hiring and retention challenges they face.

I founded the “original” Hire Heroes USA five years ago with this need in mind.

Hire Heroes USA is a non-profit organization dedicated to offering transition assistance training, job search assistance, and job placement services for veterans; helping them navigate the difficult journey toward civilian life, especially for the wounded or disabled.

Many veterans find it difficult to translate and apply military service and skills into civilian roles.  Despite the skills they obtain in the military – including leadership, a strong work ethic, and the ultimate in stress management – military and corporate cultures can be very different – with an informal atmosphere and more reactive work environment presenting challenges for some. 

At the same time, corporate recruiters have a hard time understanding military rank structures, scope of billet responsibilities, and service-specific language – not to mention the challenges of comparing federal benefits to those offered by civilian employers.

Hire Heroes USA – which partners with the USO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and a multitude of private employers – maintains one of the nation’s most effective programs for veteran transition into the civilian workforce.  Hire Heroes USA has conducted more than 10,000 individual career coaching sessions and helped revise nearly 3,000 résumés. 

In 2011 alone it has found work for more than 180 veterans and each week assists on average more than 40 unemployed veterans. Of these veterans, two out of three served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and 40 percent were wounded or disabled.

I call on my fellow CEOs in Corporate America to join me in promoting specific recruitment programs for veterans.

As a private sector CEO, I come from and owe my opportunities to two generations of Americans who served proudly; one as a naturalized citizen.  They sacrificed greatly for the freedoms that we enjoy – as have so many service members – leaving me with the enduring belief that our veterans deserve to return home to fewer challenges than the ones they faced on the battlefield.

As CEOs and corporate executives, it’s our responsibility to do all we can to support those brave men and women when they return home by helping them transition into jobs where they can support themselves and their families, enjoying this country’s freedoms like the rest of us.

John Bardis is chairman, president and chief executive officer of MedAssets, Inc. and founder of Hire Heroes USA.