MELBOURNE, Fla. -- When Richard Simoes left the U.S. Army in 2006, after serving in Kosovo and Afghanistan, he immediately had to transition back to civilian life on his own.
And, except for the tattoo on his right arm that is a symbol of the unit in which he served, he left military life behind to start a lawn service.
"There was nobody directing me to, 'Hey, here are these benefits,'" said Simoes, 35, of Merritt Island.
It wasn't until after the business collapsed in a faltering economy and someone mentioned to him the GI Bill benefits to which he was entitled, that he thought of himself as a veteran.
Mention Veterans Day, and most people will think of those who served in World War II or the Vietnam War.
Not likely to come to mind immediately are the men and women in their 20s and 30s who served in recent wars.
"I feel like it's an appreciation for the older veterans," said Jason Goodman, 35, an Air Force veteran who is a student at Eastern Florida State College. "I feel like it's hard for us to think of ourselves as veterans."
But that will change as time goes on and the most recent wars become part of history, said retired Army Col. Nathan Thomas, president of Welcome Home Vets, an organization that honors and assists veterans of all wars.
Thousands are likely to return to civilian life when the war in Afghanistan ends for U.S. troops.
"When you think of veterans, you think of World War II and Vietnam because those things are behind us," Thomas said. "People often don't think of the young guys as veterans because they think of their careers as ongoing, even though some have left the military."
Eric Petersen, 42, who served in the Air Force, said he was too busy working and transitioning to civilian life to think of himself as a veteran.
"I think of my father as a veteran," he said. "He was a drill sergeant in the Air Force, a training instructor."
But while the younger generation of veterans might not get the same recognition as their fathers or grandfathers, as a group they have spent more time in combat zones than any previous generation.
Charlie Arispe, 34, of Melbourne served in Afghanistan and was preparing for another deployment when he was injured in a bus accident while in training.
He said older troops are the ones considered the veterans, even though his contemporaries have served much longer in wars than veterans of previous generations.
"My dad was in the Air Force for 21 years and only deployed once," he said. "When people say you're a veteran, they're kind of surprised because you're 30 or 34."
A lot of people don't really connect or care who served, said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Ryan. Because the war in Afghanistan is still ongoing after 10 years, they don't consider those still serving when they think of veterans.
"The only ones they see are the wounded ones," said Ryan, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. "People don't really care unless they have a family member in there. Oh, they'll say, 'Nothing's too good for a veteran.' But a lot of it is lip service."
While the current crop of veterans is eligible to join groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, they have shied away from doing so for the most part.
In some cases, they have started new organizations instead.
Petersen, Tom Bartley and Charles Berry are part of the Collegiate Veterans Society at Eastern Florida. The organization has been active in several community events and is growing as it recruits new members on campus.
They said that they want recognition for younger veterans' service to go beyond ceremonies on Veterans Day. The recognition they want is consideration when they search for a job or try to start a business.
Berry, 34 who served in the Air Force, said that though younger veterans now look to their older comrades as "the veterans," he expected that to change.
"There's been a trend in the last couple of years of reconnecting with other veterans," he said.
Ronda Denning served 11 years in the Army and returned to civilian life and worked as a team leader for the VA Vet Center in Melbourne until recently.
Denning, who recently returned to active duty as a captain in the Florida Army National Guard, does not leave out anyone who served when she thinks of veterans.
"I think of all veterans, but do have a soft spot for the older veterans," said Denning, 39. "I thought I could grasp what they went through. The more time I spent with them, I realized how much they went through."
People generally have no trouble spotting Steven Malits as a veteran and realizing some of what he went through. In addition to a prosthetic leg, the 26-year-old's military-themed tattoos are unmistakable.
"I guess when I'm wearing shorts and they see the prosthesis they figure it out," he said. "I get that from a lot of people."
Malits lost his left leg in a roadside bombing in April 2010 in Afghanistan and was medically retired as a sergeant from the Air Force.
Malits, who is from Wanaque, N.J., moved earlier this year to Palm Bay. Before moving here, he became a member of a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, where manyof the members were old enough to be his father or grandfather.
Ryan,88, the retired command sergeant major offers this advice: Acknowledge the sacrifices of veterans no matter their age or when they served.
"If you see a veteran, thank them for their service," he said.