NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) – The home office where Lauren Price battled to protect others as the founder of Veteran Warriors is now quiet.
She is frozen in time on the wall among a century of pictures of relatives she followed into service.
It was the back drop for a virtual hearing that made it to Washington, D.C.
“She died from her exposure to these toxins just five weeks ago,” her husband Jim Price said.
His testimony before the Veterans Armed Services Committee last week was aimed at pushing Congress to pass laws to protect and help veterans impacted by burn pits and other toxic exposure.
“Care is the priority,” Price told the committee. “Because compensation benefits do not help someone who is dead.”
His wife, a Navy veteran exposed to burn pits in Iraq, had led the way after being diagnosed more than ten years ago with terminal restrictive bronchiolitis.
That was the first of many medical issues she would face until her breathing capacity was about 35 percent. Brain lesions gave her the cognitive ability of someone 30 years older, her husband said.
“What they’re going to get is a big nasty bowl of the truth,” Lauren said in 2018 before Congress. “And they will continue to deny and deny until we’re all dead.”
Her husband, also a Navy veteran who was exposed to the burn pit fumes in Iraq, said it was “shocking” to see his wife on TV again during a recent story.
“You know,” he said before an extended pause. “I always knew that she was big deal. But it’s a reminder of how big of a deal and how much of an impact she did make.”
Especially frustrating now for Veteran Warriors and other Veterans Service Organizations is the government has spent millions of dollars over the years to build incinerators but claims they are too expensive to staff.
So the pits continue to burn a long list of items – medical and human waste, amunition, chemicals, tires, paint, lubricants – everything the military is done with but does not want to leave behind in other countries.
“They woud start it with jet fuel,” Jim Price with Veteran Warriors recalled.
He counters the claim incinerators are too costly to staff with the expense of healthcare for the exposed and values that cannot be calculated.
“There is no price,” Price said when asked about the cost of lost life and chronically ill veterans. “You cannot quantify it. You have to do anything and everything possible to save every single life.”
The impacts of the various proposed federal laws include streamlining the claim process, adding a list of illnesses that would be presumed to have been caused by burn pits and eliminating the burden of proof for veterans.
A tattoo on Price’s right arm reads, “Do Not Go Gentle,” a reference to the Dylan Thomas iconic poem about fighting death.
He said it represents the approach his organization takes to bring awareness to what toxins are doing to military personnel and what should be done to help them.
“It’s good to see that even though she’s not here,” Price said. “She is still here and everything that she wanted is still happening. We’re not done.”