Burn pit toxins took life of Tampa Bay veteran but did not silence her fight

8 On Your Side

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa Bay veteran is continuing the fight he started with his wife to smother toxic burn pits used by the military to dispose of everything from medical waste to chemicals.

Over the years, the military has often denied burn pits even exist, something that has frustrated many including New Port Richey Navy Veteran Lauren Price.

“And they will continue to deny and deny until we’re all dead,” Price said in a 2018 interview with 8 On Your Side.

After serving near burn pits in Iraq for about a year starting in 2007, Price was diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis – a terminal illness tied to breathing toxic fumes.

The disease eventually depleted her lung capacity to about 35 percent and prompted her retirement from the Navy. But neither retirement nor health stopped her from founding Veteran Warriors, a national veterans’ advocacy organization advocating for veterans and active personnel facing toxic exposures.

“Care is the priority because compensation benefits do not help someone who is dead because they didn’t get care.”

James Price – Lauren’s widower

About a week after her 2018 interview with 8 On Your Side’s Steve Andrews, she testified before Congress about how the military was not following its own burn pit policies.

“What they’re going to get is a big nasty bowl of the truth of here are the facts,” Price said about her upcoming testimony. “Here are the policies. Here’s the laws that are in place and these are the people who are dead or dying. So, tell us again how they’re not doing it.”

Last week, her husband James who she raised five children with returned to D.C. to speak on his wife’s behalf.

“She cannot be with us today because she died from her exposure to these toxins just five weeks ago,” he told the House Veteran Affairs Committee in a virtual hearing.

Price told the committee one vital key is making sure Veterans Affairs does a better job of helping the many who are already exposed.

Price, also a Navy veteran who is now the Chief Logistics Officer of Veteran Warriors, addressed an understandable fear about his year of exposure to the flames and fumes.

“I was almost always within 500 yards of Lauren,” Price told the committee. “Breathing the same air and traveling the same routes. Every day I wonder is today the day that toxic exposure catches up with me.”

Lauren’s most recent diagnosis in a series of ailments blamed on burn pit toxins occurred on Valentine’s Day. An incurable cancer doctors said could be stalled for more than a year with chemotherapy.

“Lauren passed away on March 30th, at the age of 56,” Price said, fighting back tears. “Not 12 to 18 months after the diagnosis of cancer. 44 days. This is what toxic exposure can do.”

Price and Veteran Warriors are pushing Congress to act on more than a dozen proposed bills that would protect veterans from toxic exposure caused by burn pits, as well as biological, radioactive, chemical, and environmental sources.

“Care is the priority,” he said. “Because compensation benefits do not help someone who is dead because they didn’t get care.”

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