Monday, August 30, 2010

The Stories of Downwinders

I am starting a new blog series this week about the stories my Downwinder clients have shared with me over the years, and the process my clients go through to get the compensation they deserve. These stories are sad, but yet inspiring, and while I do not have the time to compile every story into a book, as I would like to do some day, I do have time to share them with you on this blog.  Enjoy!

Let me introduce you to Jose*, my first Downwinder client. He literally walked into my Prescott office by chance sometime in 2000 with no appointment made in advance and no referral from another lawyer. I invited him in to sit for a while, gave him a glass of water and decided to listen to his story.

Jose was a sweet, quiet and unassuming man, who had just recently lost his wife to lung cancer. Left with her four boys to raise on his own, and too many medical bills to mention, her death left him in a precarious financial situation. Jose had read a newspaper article about the Downwinder program in the local paper, and thought maybe he might qualify for the compensation. I read through that article, having never heard of the program before, and told him I did not think I could help. While it certainly sounded like an interesting program, it was definitely not my area of expertise. I explained to him gently that I had never filed a claim before, did not know how the program worked, and was clearly not the best attorney for the job. He considered those to be lousy excuses, and pleaded with me to represent him.

Setting all excuses aside, I decided to give it a try. I was a new attorney, and really had not figured out what my “niche” was going to be. Little did I know that it would take five years (yes, five!) to get Jose’s claim approved. The paperwork was complicated, and Jose’s common-law marriage to his wife was not recognized by the Department of Justice. I was concerned throughout the process that because Jose wouldn’t qualify for compensation because his wife had been a lifelong smoker. Much to my frustration, the Department of Justice denied the claim because of the common-law marriage issue. I decided not to give up and re-filed the claim on behalf of the four boys, several of whom were minors, and one of whom was stationed overseas in the military. What a process! The smoking issue because a non-issue, as I later learned that lung cancer is covered regardless of whether the victim was a smoker.

When the claim was finally approved, much to my surprise, Jose brought his entire family to meet me when the checks were issued. What a treat to meet this wonderful family that I had been working with for five years. About a year later, I went on to file a second claim on behalf of Jose and his sisters and brothers for their mom who had lost her battle with cancer.

And that is how it goes in this business. One claim sadly leads to another and another. I have filed claims for children who have lost both parents to cancer, and then have gone on to develop cancer themselves. It is sad to see so many family members lost to cancer, but for those who do survive, the money can make a huge difference.

Until next time, have a great week.
 
*Names have been changed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why I Do What I Do

Just returning from my second one-week vacation in the last month. Thanks to all of my friends, co-workers, and clients who have patiently hung in there while I was gone. I am back in the office tomorrow and will be getting caught up from my time away. Every so often, I take a much-needed extended vacation to re-group and re-charge, and this was one of those breaks.

For the past several months, I have been blogging about the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program - who qualifies for compensation, the politics behind the program and possible changes that may happen to the program. It has been a learning experience for me, and I have enjoyed writing information that I hope will educate the reader. But it occurred to me that I have never shared why I do what I do and why I feel passionate about helping Downwinders and others impacted by aboveground nuclear testing.

I was not alive when our government was still firing off nuclear bombs above ground. No, I did not get to experience the awe-inspiring sight of a mushroom cloud. I never sat in a school yard with my classmates, wearing a “badge” that would measure the amount of radiation to which I was exposed, and my family did not live even remotely near the test site. Because of this, I have never buried a family member who died because of a radiation-related illness. I have not seen my classmates falling ill to numerous and varied cancers. I have not stood in a graveyard and been able to identify the type of cancer that every headstone represented.

I do not represent Downwinders for the money. Last I heard, there was only a handful of attorneys filing RECP claims with the Department of Justice. And most, if not all of these attorneys, have to practice in other areas to make ends meet. That is true for me as well, so I help my clients with estate planning, and handle some probates along the way. I dabbled in representing foster children or their parents who were involved in the child welfare system. The government has limited the amount of fees that attorneys can collect because they want the client to get the bulk of the compensation. This is entirely fair, and I have absolutely no complaints about making a small fee for each claim.

The reason I chose to work in this field is because of Jose, Dana, Margaret, Antonio, and Mark; and for every other client who has lost a spouse, a parent, or a child to cancer. I do this for every client who has spent sleepless nights wondering if they will survive their cancer treatment, and for every client who did not survive. For sweet Mary Jane, who, at 50 years old, could not tell her sons that she only had a few months left to live, and for Harold, who wanted to spend his last few months driving a snazzy little red convertible (funded by the government, of course). For the funerals that I have attended for the clients who died prematurely; for the tears I have wept over the loss of so many lives; for Eleanore, who didn’t get to see her dream of having Mohave County compensated.... I do this for you.

I also do this because I know that certain companies that are non-attorneys can charge a much, much higher fee that an attorney can to file a claim for a Downwinder. This has always been unfair, in my opinion, because if lawyers are regulated by the DOJ, then non-lawyers should be as well. I do not think anyone but the client should profit from their exposure to radiation. I can file the same claim and offer personalized, compassionate service at a lower fee than a non-attorney can. 

Finally, I do this because it is the right thing to do. Not every client is able to file their own claims - or frankly, wants to file their own claim. I am providing a service, and at the end of the day, I want to be proud of what I spend my waking hours doing. Thanks to all of the clients who have trusted me with their claims, and for the family members of the clients who have passed. God bless you all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Funds Available For Cancer Victims and Their Families; An Overview of the RECP Program

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, or lost a loved one to cancer, are you aware that there are funds available from the government to compensate you? The program, established in 1990, is called the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, and provides monetary compensation to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases following their exposure to radiation released during above-ground atmospheric nuclear weapons tests or, following their occupational exposure to radiation while employed in the uranium industry during the build-up to the Cold War.


Downwinders, or those persons who lived in certain areas around the test sites, are entitled to received $50,000. To qualify as a Downwinder, the claimant must have lived or worked in certain counties in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona for a period of at least two years during the period beginning on January 21, 1951, and ending on October 31, 1958, or, for the period beginning on June 30, 1962, and ending on July 31, 1962.

The counties covered in the State of Utah are Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington, and Wayne; in the State of Nevada, the counties of Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, White Pine, and that portion of Clark County that consists of townships 13 through 16 at ranges 63 through 71 (which does not include Las Vegas or any of the surrounding suburbs); and in the State of Arizona, the counties of Apache, Coconino, Gila, Navajo, Yavapai, and that part of Arizona that is north of the Grand Canyon in Mohave County.

The Downwinder must have also contracted one of the following specified diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), multiple myeloma, lymphomas (other than Hodgkin's disease), and primary cancer of the thyroid, male or female breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary, or liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), or lung.

A Downwinder can file a claim on his or her own behalf, or a family member can file on behalf of a deceased family member if he or she would have qualified of living. There are several categories of claimants, other than a self-filer:

1. Spouse: A spouse can file on behalf of a deceased spouse, even if the living spouse has since remarried. To file on a spouse, you must have been married to him or her for at least one year prior to their death.

2. Parent: A child can file on behalf of a deceased parent if the there is no spouse living that would otherwise qualify to file a claim. You must share the compensation with an living sisters or brothers that you may have, including step-siblings who lived in the same household as the deceased parent.

3. Child: A parent can file on behalf of a deceased child. If both parents of the child are still living, they are entitled to share the compensation equally.

4. Grandparent: A grandchild can file on behalf of a deceased grandparent, but only if there is no living spouse, and no living children of the grandparent. All grandchildren share the compensation equally. A Grandparent may also file on behalf of a deceased grandchild if there is no parent living that is qualified to file a claim.

Onsite Participants are those persons who participated in above-ground nuclear testing or who worked at one of the test sites in Nevada, the Pacific, Trinity or South Atlantic. Those Participants are entitled to receive $75,000 if, after onsite participation, the participant contracted one of the following specified diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), lung cancer, multiple myeloma, lymphomas (other than Hodgkin's disease), and primary cancer of the thyroid, male or female breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary, or liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), or lung.

Uranium Workers are entitled to received $100,000. There are three categories of uranium workers, including miners millers, and ore transporters.

1. Uranium Miners. Eligible individuals exposed to 40 or more working level months of radiation, or worked for at least one year in uranium mines located in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas at any time during the period beginning on January 1, 1942, and ending on December 31, 1971. Compensable diseases include primary lung cancer and certain nonmalignant respiratory diseases.

2. Uranium Mill Workers. Eligible individuals employed for at least one year in uranium mills located in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas at any time during the period beginning on January 1, 1942, and ending on December 31, 1971. Compensable diseases include primary lung cancer, certain nonmalignant respiratory diseases, renal cancer, and other chronic renal disease including nephritis and kidney tubal tissue injury.

3. Ore Transporters. Eligible individuals employed for at least one year transporting uranium ore or vanadium-uranium ore from mines or mills located in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Washington, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, and Texas at any time during the period beginning on January 1, 1942, and ending on December 31, 1971. Compensable diseases include primary lung cancer, certain nonmalignant respiratory diseases, renal cancer, and other chronic renal disease including nephritis and kidney tubal tissue injury.

If you or your loved one fall into any of these categories, please contact Laura Taylor, Attorney at Law, to determine how to proceed with filing a claim. Ms. Taylor can be reached at (928) 776-2457.

Are John McCain and Trent Franks trying to win votes in Mohave County?

On April 28, 2010, John McCain introduced legislation in the Senate which would add all of Mohave County to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program. Two months prior, on February 26, 2010, Representative Trent Franks presented legislation to the House which would also add Mohave County to the program. Now, while I applaud the efforts of both McCain and Franks, I question the timing of the proposed legislation for a couple of reasons.

The Mohave County Downwinders started holding formal meetings many, many years ago. I remember attending my first meeting in Kingman, Arizona back in the fall of 2003. At one of the meetings, Trent Franks' assistant attended to let the group know of Mr. Franks' support of the group's mission. But yet, nothing happened.

Then a few months later, John McCain sent a young man to represent him at one of the meetings. This young man was very kind, and expressed McCain's concerns about the Downwinders of Mohave County. And again, nothing happened

Several members of the group, including the now-deceased Eleanore Fanire, met with former Congressman Rick Renzi in 2004 hoping to gain his support of the group's mission. While Mr. Renzi was very concerned about the forgotten Downwinders, again, nothing happened.

If you look at the text of both the Senate and the House legislation, you will notice it's length: one sentence. One sentence!!! Now I'm not a politician, but my guess is that it wasn't too difficult to put that legislation together. And it took seven years for these two men to get a one-sentence resolution into both the House and Senate. This fact leads me to believe that there was some other motivating factor for the recent interest in Mohave County.

Certainly the voters of Mohave County must be happy that their Senator and Congressman finally got that one-sentence resolution into the hands of the folks who can make a difference in the Senate and the House. But was the motivating factor the people of Mohave County? I hope so....


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Summary of Proposed Changes to RECA Program

The text of both H.R. 5119 and S. 3224 are now available online at www.thomas.gov. I reviewed the text of both today and am providing this summary for those of you who do not want to muddle through the website and try to understand how the changes apply to you.

1. All of the following states would be added to the program: Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado. All of Arizona, Nevada and Utah would be included in the program. Guam would be added to the program.

2. Compensation would be $150,000 for all claimants. Those who filed claims and were paid in the past would be able to apply for additional compensation. For example, a claimant who received $50,000 for a Downwinder claim would be able to apply for an additional $100,000.

3. Presence requirements would change dramatically. A claimant would be required to show eligibility during one of the following periods: (a) one month during June 30, 1945 to July 31, 1945; (b) one year between June 30, 1946 to August 19, 1958, or (c) the period between April 25, 1962 to November 2, 1962.

4. Medical benefits would be given to Downwinders. Currently only uranium workers applying for compensation under the EEOICPA can receive medical benefits.

5. Uranium workers would be eligible to receive compensation if they were employed anytime prior to December 31, 1990.

6. Affidavits could be used to establish residence for Downwinders and Onsite Participants.

These would be dramatic changes to the program and would provide more compensation to tens of thousands of people who deserve it. I will continue to provide updates as they become available.


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Bill Introduced Yesterday To Radically Change RECA Program

Well, folks, it looks like Congressman Franks isn’t the only politician wanting change to the RECA (“Downwinder”) program. Yesterday, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch introduced the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010, which included some ground-breaking changes to the program.

The most exciting change would be the inclusion of all of Arizona in the program, along with all of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Colorado. Currently, only 21 counties in Arizona, Nevada and Utah are covered, and portions of counties (like Mohave County in Arizona and Clark County in Nevada).

The RECA Amendments of 2010 would further widen qualifications for compensation for radiation exposure; would expand the list of compensable diseases, would qualify post-1971 uranium workers for compensation and equalize compensation for all claimants to $150,000. This would mean that Downwinder victims and their survivors would receive triple the amount they are currently receiving ($50,000). The changes would also include funding for an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

Crapo and Risch were joined by Demcocratic Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Colorado Democrats Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. Companion legislation will be introduced in the House this week by Representative Ben Ray Luj├ín, Democrat, New Mexico.

In a statement released by Senator Crapo, he states, “The victims of this testing have waited years for just compensation, and the cruel irony is that the federal government has postponed action for so long that many aren’t living to see this bill passed. I remain optimistic that expanding the scope and reach of this program can succeed. It is the right thing to do because there are so many people affected throughout the region.”

As soon as the full text of the bill is available, I will be posting it here. Check back frequently for updates.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Happened To The Mohave County Downwinders?

I always get a bit frustrated when I hear that the reason Mohave County was excluded from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program was because of a “spelling error”.  My response to that is always the same: Hogwash!! And I heard it again, just this past Monday evening, when Mike Watkiss from Channel 3 in Phoenix reported that the reason hundreds, if not thousands, of Mohave County residents were excluded from being compensated by the government was because the drafter of the 2000 Amendments mistakenly confused Mohave County (in Arizona) with Mojave County (in California), and decided not to include Mohave County at all.  However, a quick look at the amendments that were made to the RECA in 2000 and 2002 totally discounts this theory.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed into law in 1990.  The original version of the Act did not include any county in Arizona. On July 10, 2000, the RECA Amendments of 2000 expanded the geographical areas covered under the program to include an additional five counties in Arizona: Yavapai, Coconino, Apache, Gila and Navajo. A copy, in its entirety, of all of the amendments made in 2000 can be found at http://ftp.resource.org/gpo.gov/laws/106/publ245.106.pdf.

Then, on November 2, 2002, President Bush signed the Justice Department's FY2002 Authorization bill, which included several revisions to the program. One of the revisions re-inserted a portion of Mohave County, Arizona (located north of the Grand Canyon) that was inadvertently eliminated when RECA was amended in 2000. Re-inserted a portion of Mohave County? Yes, you read that correctly. There was a mistake made in 2000 when the amendments went into effect, but it wasn’t a spelling error. Rather, a “portion” of Mohave County was completely eliminated from the amendments, and that “portion” was the northern-most part of Mohave County, commonly referred to as the Arizona Strip. The rest of Mohave County was not included, nor was it ever supposed to be included in the 2000 amendments. 

And to put to rest another rumor that has been circulating in Mohave County, Dianne Spellberg, an attorney who works with the Department of Justice, never confirmed in a letter to the Mayor of Kingman that the mistake was a “spelling error” as some have indicated recently. There has never been an admission by anyone at the Department of Justice that the mistake was anything other than what it was - the Arizona Strip wasn’t included when it should have been.

So why wasn’t the rest of Mohave County added to the program in either 2000 or 2002? If a finger needs to be pointed at anyone, I would point to the elected representatives serving Arizona at the time. Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah originally introduced the bill in 1999. Senate Bill 1515 (S.1515) had six co-sponsors with Senator Hatch, including Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, both from South Dakota, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domineci, both from New Mexico, Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado. The original text of S.1515 is still available online at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=106_cong_bills&docid=f:s1515is.txt.pdf, and nowhere within that text is any mention of any portion of Mohave County, north or south.

What’s missing? Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or a nuclear physicist - to figure out that if no one from Arizona is advocating for a change to the program, then there isn’t going to be change. While it is admirable that Congressman Franks from Arizona has finally decided to introduce a bill to the House (after years of pressure put on him by the Mohave County Downwinders), if the bill gets buried in the Judiciary Committee, then the rest of Mohave County will continue to be left out in the cold.

Mohave County, and all of those who support them - call your Congressman, your Senators, and the individual members of the Judiciary Committee. Let your voices be heard as you have done in the past and continue to do. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Are Changes to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Coming Soon?

I am frequently asked by my clients or potential clients why a certain area isn’t covered under the RECP program, or why a certain cancer or illness is excluded from compensation. The simple answer for me is that I honestly don’t know what the original drafters of the Act were considering when they created the program. However, I do know that ever since the program was created in 1990, there have been thousands upon thousands of folks who have advocated publicly for changes to the program, most often in the form of adding additional covered areas and illnesses.

I thought it would be helpful for those interested to provide a status on the bills that are currently pending in either the House or Senate. For those interested in the actual text of the bills, you can check out www.thomas.gov for more information.

1. H.R. 1630, introduced March 19, 2009, would amend the Act to include the territory of Guam as a covered area. This resolution is pending in the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.

2. S.757, The Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act: submitted on March 31, 2009. This bill would expand the illnesses covered under the program to include chronic lymphocytic leukemia, posterior subcapsular cataracts, nonmalignant thyroid nodular disease, parathyroid adenoma, malignant tumors of the brain and central nervous system, brochio-alveolar carcinoma, and benign neoplasms of the brain and central nervous system. This bill was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. A related resolution, H.R. 1878, was introduced to the House on the same day and is pending in the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

3. S.1342, A bill to include all counties in Idaho and Montana as covered areas. Introduced on June 24, 2009, the bill is pending in the Judiciary Committee.

4. H.R.4712, Introduced on February 26, 2010, by Representative Trent Franks, this bill would include the entire county of Mohave as a covered area. This bill is pending in the Judiciary Committee. As many of my readers may already know, the northern portion of Mohave County is already included as a covered area. However, this does not include Kingman or any of the surrounding areas, which were hardest hit by the radiation of above-ground nuclear testing.

This is the point where I am tempted to break out in a little song-and-dance routine of “I’m Just A Bill” from School House Rock. You know the line about “it’s a long, long wait while I’m sittin’ in committee.....” Many bills do not even make it out of the committee it’s been assigned to, so check back frequently for updates.  I will be checking regularly on the status of all of the bills.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Am I Qualified to File a RECA Claim?

I am frequently asked to determine whether or not a person is qualified to file a claim under the “Downwinder” portion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program. Just exactly what are the requirements for a “claimant” (the person for whom the claim is being filed)?   Given that the compensation available is $50,000, it is important to know and understand the qualifications.

First and foremost, the claimant must have lived or worked downwind of atmospheric nuclear tests in certain counties in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona for a period of at least two years during the period beginning on January 21, 1951, and ending on October 31, 1958, or, for the period beginning on June 30, 1962, and ending on July 31, 1962.

The counties covered in the State of Utah are Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington, and Wayne; in the State of Nevada, the counties of Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, White Pine, and that portion of Clark County that consists of townships 13 through 16 at ranges 63 through 71 (which does not include Las Vegas or any of the surrounding suburbs); and in the State of Arizona, the counties of Apache, Coconino, Gila, Navajo, Yavapai, and that part of Arizona that is north of the Grand Canyon in Mohave County. There are currently several bills pending in Congress that would add additional areas to the program, but at this time, there are the only areas that are covered.

The claimant must have also contracted one of the following specified diseases: leukemia (other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia), multiple myeloma, lymphomas (other than Hodgkin's disease), and primary cancer of the thyroid, male or female breast, esophagus, stomach, pharynx, small intestine, pancreas, bile ducts, gall bladder, salivary gland, urinary bladder, brain, colon, ovary, or liver (except if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), or lung.

You can file a claim on behalf of yourself if you meet these qualifications, or you can file a claim on behalf of a deceased family member if that family member would have qualified. There are several categories of claimants, other than a self-filer:

1. Spouse: A spouse can file on behalf of a deceased spouse, even if the living spouse has since remarried. To file on a spouse, you must have been married to him or her for at least one year prior to their death.

2. Parent: A child can file on behalf of a deceased parent if the there is no spouse living that would otherwise qualify to file a claim. You must share the compensation with an living sisters or brothers that you may have, including step-siblings who lived in the same household as the deceased parent.

3. Child: A parent can file on behalf of a deceased child. If both parents of the child are still living, they are entitled to share the compensation equally.

4. Grandparent: A grandchild can file on behalf of a deceased grandparent, but only if there is no living spouse, and no living children of the grandparent. All grandchildren share the compensation equally.   A Grandparent may also file on behalf of a deceased grandchild if there is no parent living that is qualified to file a claim.

Feel free to call me at (928) 776-2457, or my assistant, Margaret, at (928) 636-5363 to find out more about the qualifications of the program.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to my blog.

Welcome to the first in a series of blogs that I will be posting weekly. It is my hope that visitors to my site who may have questions regarding the RECA program will email me with topics so that I don’t run out of ideas. Feel free to send me your questions, your comments, your concerns, and if warranted, your complaints. I will address one question or comment each week, and hopefully, in the process, educate and inform you about the RECA program.

What is the one question that I get most frequently? It’s a simple one. “Do I need to hire an attorney to file a RECA claim?” Absolutely not. You can tackle the claim yourself, or you can help a family member with their claim. All of the forms you need are available on the Department of Justice website.

Why would you want to hire me to file the claim for you? That’s a simple one, too. I can take away the headache of gathering all those pesky documents that you need to file a claim - like birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, medical records, proof of presence documents, and so on and so forth, for a relatively small fee. Thanks to Congress, I am limited to the amount of the fees that I can charge you (2% for a new claim and 10% for the refiling of a denied claim plus a processing fee and costs). Better yet, I can’t charge the fee unless the claim is successfully completed. 

When my paycheck depends on the number of successful claims that I can complete each month, I become very motivated to get your claim done quickly and efficiently. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me so we can talk about your claim.

See you next week.  For more information, visit my website at http://www.downwindersprogram.com/.

©2011 LAURA J. TAYLOR.