Carlos De León, who grew up in Lawrence, served in the Army for 10 years and was deployed twice to Iraq. His second deployment ended abruptly on August 11, 2007.

"We had gotten back from a mission, and I was on my way to the phone center to call my dad. It was his birthday,” he said. That’s when alarms started going off to alert the soldiers of incoming mortars."

“I began trying to run for cover,” he said. “And I had a mortar round land directly behind me and I got shrapnel to my right flank."

On Thursday, Massachusetts will honor De León and all those who have served and died in the U.S. armed forces with Veterans Day ceremonies across the state, including parades in downtown Boston and Lawrence, Mass.

But Veterans Day, the first in two decades where the United States is not in a major conflict, also serves as a reminder of the ways some say the country is letting them down. U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a former Marine who represents a Massachusetts district that stretches from Newton to Fall River, wants to see more legislators who are veterans, and for Congress to reclaim its responsibility for declaring war.

Nearly 380,00 veterans live in Massachusetts, and nearly 274,000 of them served during wartime, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. A new report by UMass Boston says, like De León, 62% of Massachusetts veterans who served during the Gulf wars era are Latino.

De León recovered from his injury, but adjusting to life after the Army was a challenge.

"When I came out of the military, like a lot of veterans, I was sitting around struggling on what the next step was going to be in life," he recalled.

De León got involved in several programs of the Wounded Warrior Project, including a career transition program, where he met other veterans who would become entrepreneurs like him. Today, he and his wife live in Florida and run a mobile cigar lounge.

“I myself began a business because I was inspired by other veterans who also began a business,” he said.

De León says he’s grateful for the support that veterans receive in Lawrence, where some parking spots are reserved for Purple Heart recipients like him, and around the country on Veterans Day.

“For us, Veterans Day is every day,” he said. “The way we live is, we try to honor those not only who serve, but those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Our goal is to live our life by honoring them.”

Auchincloss says many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face the same challenges De León did readjusting to civilian life.

“There is a large mental health component, and I would even say isolation component,” Auchincloss told GBH News. “They’re hungry for community. They are looking for ways to channel their skills and the lessons they learned in the military into the business and civil society sphere. And while we have made tremendous progress in providing channels for them to do that, we have work to be done.”

Auchincloss, who served as a Marine in Afghanistan and Panama, says he’d like to see more veterans serving in Congress.

“Americans are hungry for a sense of unity and purpose that's higher than the given political debate of the day,” he said. “I think veterans are positioned to offer that."

“They are also positioned to prevent the over-militarization of our foreign policy, where every problem is viewed as a potential military solution,” Auchincloss continued. “That’s how we got dragged into 20 years of wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, and we need more veterans in Congress who understand that wars are easy to start and hard to end."

But, even after the war in Afghanistan ended in August, Auchincloss points out U.S. forces continue to fight in Syria and other nations around the globe — without congressional consent.

“The Constitution vests the authority for waging war with Congress, not with the president,” he said. “And Congress really has abdicated that responsibility over the last half century.”

Auchincloss concedes in the modern era, when things can happen in just minutes, the president needs to be given some discretion when it comes to defending the country.

“But ultimately, if we are making national decisions about putting troops in harm’s way and using force to solve foreign policy problems, Congress needs to be part of that conversation,” he said.

Auchincloss says he supports a bill that would expand veterans' hospital coverage for exposure to toxins from burn pits used to dispose of trash overseas.

“As we understand better veterans’ exposure to carcinogenic toxins, they should be covered for that,” he said. “That's part of the social contract we signed with them.”