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First Memorial Day without his wife, an American hero who died from toxic exposure in Iraq

Lauren Price spent less than one year in Iraq but came home with debilitating health issues caused by toxic exposures she endured while serving.

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — She made it back from Iraq, but she also brought home illnesses and health problems that made every breath she took a struggle.

Lauren Price enlisted in the United States Navy at age 39. Her widower, James Price, explained that Lauren was a young military spouse and mom. So, her own military journey was delayed. Once her kids were old enough, she followed her calling and served in the Navy from 2006 to 2013.

Credit: James Price

In the mid 2000's, James explained the Army reached out to other branches of the military to send more troops to Iraq. Both Lauren and James volunteered and ending up meeting on that volunteer deployment.

It was the height of the war.

"If she could go and do it, that was one less person that was younger than her that had young kids that was still at the beginning of their life that wouldn’t have to go," James Price said of why Lauren volunteered to go into the warzone.

During her eleven-month tour in Iraq, she frequently breathed in toxic smoke from burn pits as she drove trucks on and off base for missions.

Burn pits were used in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to eliminate waste like chemicals, ammunition, oil and other items they needed to get rid of. Many veterans have described it as a burning hole of toxic waste.

At the time, most didn't consider the burning pit a high-priority threat.

In 2018, Lauren Price told 10 Tampa Bay, "We were there during the worst. It was the most fatalities in Iraq. We were losing a truck with five people every single week out of our brigade. You figured you’d get blown up.”

However, within months of coming home, Price noticed she was having respiratory problems and would get winded very easily.

During that 2018 interview with 10 Tampa Bay, Lauren Price said, "I had no idea that the thing I would come home to deal with would be literally I can’t breathe.”

The Prices fought to get Lauren the healthcare, benefits, and medical status she desperately needed to survive. It was an excruciating process.

"From start to finish, it took four years, five appeals, and several congressional letters from members of congress to the VA to finally get her the disability rating that she was due which then, in turn, would allow her to get the medical care through the VA," said James Price.

Ultimately, after several diagnoses including constricted bronchiolitis and cancer, the Prices accepted that Lauren's time on Earth was limited. James said she made it her mission to help other veterans who came home with illnesses caused by toxic exposures.

"What she could do for other veterans and their families was the priority," said Price.

Lauren founded Veteran Warriors and testified before Congress numerous times fighting for burn pit veterans and their families.

James said she fought for others until her final days.

Lauren Price passed away on March 30, 2021, after developing a blood clot. James shared with 10 Tampa Bay reporter, Liz Crawford, some of his last conversation with Lauren.

"Just not ready but keep doing everything that needs to be done for family, for friends, to keep helping out other veterans," said James.

This Memorial Day, two months and one day since Lauren's death, has a whole new meaning for the Price family.

"Being a veteran and knowing people who have given the ultimate sacrifice has always meant more to me than probably non-military individuals but it just hits awfully close to home this weekend," said James.

Along with James, Lauren leaves behind three sons, two stepsons, and six grandchildren. She was 56-years-old.

James hopes to keep her legacy alive through her foundation and helping military veterans.

RELATED: Tampa Bay lawmaker drafts bill to help vets exposed to burn pits

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