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.