WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- This Memorial Day, Americans will honor those members of the Armed Forces who gave their lives in service to their country.

For Retired Sgt. 1st Class Debra Kay Mooney, this upcoming Memorial Day -- and every other day of the year -- is a time of remembrance for the fallen comrades she served with in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.

She said she often thinks of Spc. Kyle Adam Brinlee, a fellow Soldier and dear friend from her unit. When Mooney contracted pneumonia just before deployment to Iraq, Brinlee was the first person to visit her in the hospital. Shortly after, Brinlee was killed by an IED in Asad, Iraq, on May 11, 2004. He was 21 years old.
Mooney served as a combat engineer in the 120th Engineers in both the first and second battles of Fallujah that occurred in 2004. She also served another tour in Iraq in 2008.

Later in her military career, Mooney was stationed at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, as part of the Pre-Deployment Training Assisting Elements unit, where she trained other Soldiers on what to expect and how to react during combat using realistic simulations.

Mooney is the first woman in her family to serve in the military. She said she doesn't dwell much on that detail. Even in Fallujah, she didn't think at all about being a woman among mostly male Soldiers and Marines, she said. "We were all just Soldiers."

Now retired from the Army, Mooney, a native Choctaw Indian, resides in her hometown of Idabel, Oklahoma. She is a dedicated volunteer with the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., serving on an advisory board that will select the winning entries for a monument to Native American veterans on the museum grounds. She also regularly participates in local community speaking engagements.
In addition to her extensive community involvement, Mooney works at the Choctaw Nation Clinic in Idabel -- where she is also receiving counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many other veterans who suffer from this condition, Mooney's PTSD arose from the constant anxiety of serving in an active warzone, rather than from a particular incident.

Mooney encourages all Americans to commemorate Memorial Day as an opportunity not only to honor the fallen, but also to remember wounded service men and women who sustained both physical and psychological injuries as a result of combat. PTSD or traumatic brain injuries sustained in combat can lead to tragic consequences -- including suicide -- if not treated properly.

A Soldier from Mooney's own unit was one victim of such injuries who took his own life this month, Mooney said. "It weighs heavy on my heart."

HOW TO GET IMMEDIATE HELP

Veterans who need medical care or help with PTSD can call the Veterans Affair's confidential and toll-free number at 1-800-273-8255. They can also chat online with representatives at the VA's website, www.veteranscrisisline.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals is also available.

Soldiers on active duty or in the reserve components can also use the VA's toll-free number or website. They can also see one of the 450 providers in 62 embedded behavioral health teams that support every operational unit in the Army, said Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, chief of behavioral health in the Army's Office of the Surgeon General.

Terrence Hayes, a spokesman for the VA, said taking care of those who served the United States military remains the top concern for his agency.

"The health and welfare of our veterans remains our No. 1 priority," he said. "When veterans are faced with challenges, we want them to know we are here for them. We encourage our veterans to seek our assistance no matter the situation."

Hayes said that veterans, as well as their families who need assistance, can also reach the VA through the ebenefits.va.gov or myhealth.va.gov websites. They can also also contact local VA medical centers or clinics directly, as well as Veterans Employment Centers or national cemeteries for further information.


(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)