This story was first published in the Military Times and was edited from the original.
A prominent advocate for military burn pit victims died this week from complications related to her own toxic exposure injuries.
Lauren Price, a Navy veteran from New Port Richey who co-founded the Florida-based Veterans Warriors Inc., passed away on March 30 from complications related to cancer. She was 56.
In a statement, group officials said her death was “due to illness and disease that directly resulted from her service in the United States Navy, specifically her exposure to toxic chemicals and substances during her deployment to Iraq.”
They also released a statement from Price given just days before her death: “It has been my greatest honor to serve the veterans of this nation as their advocate. The people and organizations that I have met and worked with have been the best in the world.”
Price served in the Navy from 2006 to 2013, a tour that included 13 months in Iraq at the height of the war. She testified before Congress that she frequently breathed in toxic smoke from burn pits as she drove trucks on and off base for missions.
Her own respiratory issues from that exposure inspired her to launch Veterans Warriors Inc. The group grew from a Facebook group trading burn pit stories to an organization focused on nationwide advocacy, legislative lobbying, caregiver assistance and other help for veterans dealing with health issues related to toxic exposure.
Price’s death comes as veteran advocates have increased focus on the issue of burn pits in recent months.
Earlier this week, Rep. Elanie Luria, D-Va., introduced new legislation to award benefits to all veterans exposed to toxic substances during service in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, East Africa and the Philippines. Similar measures have been debated in the last year, and several large rallies on the issue are planned for later this spring.
Rep. Gus Bilkrakis, R-Fla., worked closely with Price on a number of veterans issues and praised her in a statement as “a true warrior … up to her last breath.”
“She leaves behind a legacy of service and sacrifice that will never be forgotten,” he said. “Her work is not finished, as we are still pushing to enact many of the policies she helped craft.” Officials from Veterans Warriors Inc. announced that Holly Ferrell will serve as executive director, and other leadership changes will be announced in coming weeks.
“Lauren was a fierce and tenacious advocate whose mission was clear as she worked tirelessly for 12 years serving veterans and their families,” the group said in a statement. “Even as her health declined, Lauren was determined to not allow anything to get in the way of her selfless service to our veterans.”
More information is available on the group’s web site.