Philadelphia VA Tells Marine to 'Take a Hike'


by Robert O’Dowd


(PHILADELPHIA, PA) – The letter from the Philadelphia VA Regional Office was thick. It wasn’t a love letter. The package was received on my daughter’s birthday, February 28, 2012.

The VA letter was their  denial of my pending disability compensation claims. The denial runs a total of 66 single space pages.

The Statement of the Case or SOC included much boilerplate, but even so, with at least an average count of 400 words per page, we’re looking at something in the area of 26,000 words. That’s a lot of trees to say, ‘Shove it.’

My VA attorney told me that he has never seen a VA denial running 66 pages. If this is a VA tactic to discourage me, they are wasting their time. I don’t know the percentage of DRO appeals that are rejected but like other VA appeals, my guess is that it’s high.

El Toro made the EPA Superfund list in 1990, primarily as a result of the wide spreading toxic TCE plume. No Marine veterans were notified of their possible exposure to organic solvents and a myriad of other toxins.

In 2002, Roy F. Weston a Navy contractor reported the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was contaminated with radiation from a Ra 226 paint room. The Wing Supply Support Division was located in this mezzanine. Hangar 296 and its twin, Hangar 297, were ‘ground zero’ for the TCE plume spreading miles into Orange County.

As a young Marine, I worked and slept on duty watch in the Hangar 296 from January 1963 until October 1964. I have unknowingly suffered the health effects of exposure to TCE and radiation for decades without knowing it.

I’ve provided the Philadelphia VA with a medical nexus opinion linking radiation exposure from the Ra 226 paint room in Hangar 296 to several current medical conditions, together with a recommendation from an internationally known expert on radiation who told the VA that only a chromosome blood breakage test from a government laboratory is definitive proof of radiation exposure.

The Philadelphia VA refuses to provide this test, using the erroneous position that follow-up chemotherapy for my bladder cancer (linked to radiation exposure by the Federal government) would negate this blood test, despite the fact that the radiation expert with multiple doctorate degrees and over 40 years of experience in the field specifically told the VA that bladder cancer chemotherapy would not impact the blood test. Following surgery, the chemotherapy was injected directly into the bladder.

I have been called many things in my life but never a liar. The VA is wrong, terribly wrong. Marines in MOS 3071 attached to MWSG-37 in the 1960s worked in one of two places: in the warehouses or in Wing Supply Support Division (WSSD) in Hangar 296. Marines in MOS 3072 worked exclusively in WSSD, unless they were real ‘eight balls’ and given other duties.

At this point, I have to wonder what happened to the other Marines in Hangar 296. My buddy who worked next to me and slept in the top bunk died of brain cancer in 2002. How many others died and are now seriously ill with cancer and other diseases?

The VA has the obligation and the authority to confirm with the Marine Corps that Marines in El Toro’s WSSD in the 1960s and God knows for how many years after worked in Hangar 296′s north mezzanine.

Instead, the Philadelphia VA took the position that there’s no support for a supply clerk to work in a hangar. Under 38 U.S.C. 5103A(b), the VA is required to obtain records “in the custody of a Federal department or agency. VA will make as many requests as are necessary to obtain relevant records from a Federal department or agency. These records include but are not limited to military records…” The Marine Corps or one its association should be able to confirm that the WSSD was located in Hangar 296 in the 1960s and the date or the approximate date WSSD was relocated from Hangar 296. By law, this is not something a veteran should be left to his or her own resources to research. 


The administrative office space in the north mezzanine (2nd deck) of Hangar 296 was assigned to the Wing Supply Support Division. I worked in the WSSD as Supply Clerk (MOS 3071 and later changed to MOS 3072) from January 1963 until late October 1964. The entrance to WSSD was accessed from a door on the northwest side of the hangar, which leading to wooden stairs and an open walkway overlooking the hangar bay deck. The entrance door to WSSD was about mid-way down the open walk way on your left.  The Ra 226 paint room was located

My service records show two MOSs at El Toro. MOS 3071 and 3072. The Marine Corps should have a position description for MOS 3072 from the 1960s, which should show the mechanized duties assigned to this position as compared to MOS 3071. This is not definitive proof of assignment to WSSD, but it’s unlikely that a Marine with these skills would be a ‘box kicker’ in the Wing’s warehouses.

The VA has the authority and obligation under 38 U.S.C. 5103A(b) to request the position description for MOS 3072 from the Marine Corps, but nothing was done. Their attitude appears to be, “it’s your disability claim; go get what you need to support it.”

A metal rail protected an inadvertent fall off the walk way onto the hangar deck. While on duty watch, we slept in a bunk in a small room at the west end of the office. Telephone calls for priority requisitions for aircraft out of commission for parts (AOCP) or aircraft not fully equipped (ANFE) woke us in the middle of the night.

The phone would ring until we got out of the bunk; walk the 60 or so feet to the telephone to answer it. The inventory of aircraft parts was kept on IBM punch cards by Federal stock number in bins. During duty hours, we spent hours sorting by hand IBM punch cards and using pencils to mark IBM punch cards for bath processing that evening.

Two keypunch machines were located in our work space and anyone who showed he had typing skills and the willingness to learn was quickly put to work in keypunching IBM punch cards for one task or another. At the end of the workday, the bins with their IBM punch cards were taken to the hangar floor for computer processing by an IBM 1401.

The output products were picked-up each morning from computer operations and brought by elevator to the WSSD on the second level deck (upper mezzanine). When called after normal working hours, the duty watches had look up the requested part in the inventory kept on an IBM punch card and even if the balance was zero, call the warehouse watch Marine to physically check the supply bin just in case the data records were incorrect and the item was on hand.

If the item was available, then the squadron or group supply office had to be called back even at 0300 to let them know the part was on hand, to process the requisition and send someone over in a jeep or truck to pick up the item from the warehouse. Sometimes this ritual happened 4 or 5 times a night.

If you caught the weekend duty (Friday through Sunday), it got to be a long shift. We didn’t have access to the group’s mess hall, so you had to take a jeep back to mainside’s mess hall for meals. No timeouts for showers or PX stops. Just eat and get back in the jeep for the ride back to the hangar. Showers were in the rear of the office space. Everyone had to shower and shave daily and you caught hell if the OD stopped in and found you unshaven and out of uniform.

No TVs or newspapers; only one radio when it worked. The sound of C-130s on night operations would keep you awake. The final duty before lights out at 2200 was cleaning and buffing the deck in the Wing’s Supply Officer’s space. Our Wing Supply Officers were aviators; not hard asses. We were there to get the job done, but this was the Marine Corps and not the Hilton. There were no janitorial services so enlisted Marines were expected to keep the work area spotless.


The definitive test for radiation exposure is a blood chromosome breakage test, according to a world renowned radiation expert. The VA refused to do this test. Why won’t the VA just draw the blood for the blood chromosome breakage test? I’m guessing that the issue is much bigger that one Marine veteran from El Toro who may have been exposed to low levels of radiation decades ago. Instead the VA medical examiner used urine and white blood cell tests to determine no evidence of exposure to radiation. An internationally known radiation expert disagrees that this is the appropriate test for low level radiation exposure.

This can’t be a money issue. Two government labs are certified to do the chromosome breakage test.

The problem may be if the VA agrees that their tests for radiation exposure are not accurate, it opens the door to thousands of other veterans who may have been exposed to low levels of radiation, too. That’s not a road the VA wants to travel.

This could costs the VA a great deal of money if Gulf War veteran, for example, were found exposed to radiation from DU rounds fired during the war and suffer health effects from these exposures. The VA can easily avoid liability for compensation to these Veterans by using the urine and white blood count tests.

However, if the preferred chromosome blood breakage test found evidence of exposure to radiation, it’s another matter.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell told me that the chromosome blood breakage test is the only way to detect exposure to low levels of radiation white the VA’s current test mythology is at best inadequate and at worst misleading.


Dr. Bertell has a Ph.D. from Catholic University of America in Mathematics with minor in Biology and Biochemistry. She is the recipient of seven honorary doctorate degrees and the author of 147 professional articles and several books on the environment. She has worked in environmental heath since 1969.

Dr. Rosalie BertellShe was involved in the founding of several organizations, including the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, Toronto, Canada, which she is the President. She is the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, the World Federalist Peace Prize, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global 500 Award. Dr. Bertell has extensive experience in the area of radiation exposure, having headed the Bhopal and Chernobyl Medical Commission. At my request, Dr. Bertell wrote Ms. Eileen Kostic, the Veterans Service Center Manager for the Philadelphia Regional Office, on November 26, 2011.

The letter fell on deaf ears.Dr. Bertell wrote Ms. Kostic that, “According to a Navy report prepared by Roy F. Weston in July 2002, the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 at MCAS El Toro was contaminated with radiation from a Ra 226 paint room. Robert O’Dowd worked and slept in this portion of the hangar in 1963-1964. Radon, a decay product of Ra 226, may have entered.He is a stage 2/3 bladder cancer survivor (2005-2006), and suffers from other medical conditions such as small vessel disease of the brain, brain atrophy, and hyperprolactinemia that had been associated with radiation exposure. Radon gas can pass directly to the brain via the olfactory channels. This has now been confirmed through studies of DU aerosol in the Gulf War.The only definitive test to rule out radiation exposure is a chromosomal blood breakage test for rings and dicentrics. The advice given to Robert O’Dowd by the Philadelphia VA (Ms. Mary Moore) is that his follow-up chemotherapy for bladder cancer in 2006 prevents the use of a chromosome blood breakage test.

In my opinion, this advice is wrong…Dr. Jeffrey Bodack of the Philadelphia Medical Center relied on a urine analysis and white cell blood count for his finding that Mr. O’Dowd had no detectable medical problems.Based on my experience, Dr. Bodack’s tests, urine and white blood count, are not intended to be tests for radiation exposure and would have no possibility of finding any abnormality resulting from low dose radiation exposure this long a time after the event [my italics”].

Dr. Bertell advised the Philadelphia VA that there were only two government laboratories with the capability to perform the blood chromosome blood breakage test: the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, Bethesda, MD, and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Cytogenetic Biodosimetry Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN. This has special interest for El Toro Marines who worked in Hangar 296 and Gulf War Veterans.The Philadelphia VA’s Statement of the Case, dated February 24, 2012, misquoted Dr. Bertell.

The VA reported the Dr. Bertell (p. 40), “reports that the follow up chemotherapy you underwent for bladder cancer in 2006, prevents the use of the chromosome blood breakage test.” This couldn’t be more wrong; it is totally opposite of the position taken by Dr. Bertell.


Any El Toro Marine who worked in the north mezzanine of Hangar 296 in the 1960s and later should demand that the VA conduct the chromosome blood breakage test and not the standard urine and while blood cell count tests, if they have any medical conditions linked to radiation.Gulf War Veterans who may have reasons to believe they were exposed to radiation should demand the VA do the chromosome blood breakage test.Only chemotherapy that affects the entire body would negate the use of the chromosome blood breakage test.Gulf War Veterans should read Paul Zimmerman’s “Management of Depleted Uranium and the Medical Mismanagement of Gulf War Veterans, dated November 20, 2009, on Truthout, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to providing independent news and commentary at


Major William Mimiaga, a disabled Vietnam Veteran and friend, told me that, “the VA is an adversary not an ally to our Veterans.” His assessment is right on target. Yesterday,  Major Mimiaga reminded me of a message he posted on Facebook on the VA.

Please take the time to visit Major Mimiaga on Facebook. You won’t be disappointed. Part of his message bears repeating:

“Shame on you and Shame on America! For decades now we have tied yellow ribbons to trees professing our love and support for our nation’s Veterans and their families in need while all the while many of you are doing so only for financial gain or personal notoriety. I call it disgusting and shameful…living off the backs of our Veterans and the families of our fallen heroes. The VA system is broken and often appears without empathy to the service and sacrifice of our Veterans and their families. The Veterans Administration is an adversary and not an ally to the Veteran. They will wait out the Veteran with rejected appeals until finally attrition sadly removes him or her from their roles.”

Marines who served in the MCAS El Toro’s WSSD can contact me on email at [email protected]

14 women sue C.H. Robinson; They allege discrimination, hostile work environment.(BUSINESS)

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) October 3, 2002 | Rybak, Deborah Caulfield Byline: Deborah Caulfield Rybak; Staff Writer CLARIFICATION PUBLISHED 10/04/02: This article stated that C.H. Robinson’s salaried female employees were not reimbursed for overtime work. Robinson’s salaried male employees also do not receive overtime pay. here hostile work environment

Fourteen women filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing Eden Prairie-based trucking company C.H. Robinson Worldwide of “systemic” gender discrimination and creating a “flagrantly hostile” work environment by allowing pornographic and racist materials to be regularly circulated in its offices.

The suit contends that Robinson, one of the country’s largest transportation freight companies with $3.1 billion in annual revenue, is a male-dominated culture where pornography and sexual comments by supervisors were daily occurrences. The suit also maintains that many women routinely were denied promotions, equitable salaries and overtime pay.

Sprenger & Lang, the Minneapolis law firm representing the workers, is seeking class-action status for more than 1,000 former and current female Robinson employees, and a Sprenger partner called the Robinson case the “unprecedented” white-collar equivalent to his firm’s landmark sexual harassment suit against Eveleth Mines.

The Eveleth Mines case was settled in 1998 for $6.8 million on behalf of 16 women workers at the Iron Range company.

Robinson CEO John Wiehoff denied the charges in a prepared statement and said the company will “aggressively defend” itself against the suit. The stakes could be high if Sprenger’s request to include 1,000 additional female employees in a class action is granted – damages could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 41-page complaint detailed the experiences of 14 current and former Robinson employees, four of them from the Twin Cities area.

Among the allegations about Robinson, which has 4,000 employees at 146 branch offices: web site hostile work environment

– Women employees were the targets of crude remarks and advances by male colleagues. The suit says a common comment was that women who advanced in the company were “sleeping their way to the top.” One woman at Robinson’s Des Plaines, Ill., office contends she was slapped on the “hip and buttock” and asked “Why are you playing hard to get?” at a retreat called to discuss gender discrimination.

– Women receive less pay and smaller bonuses than their male counterparts, and salaried female employees are not reimbursed for overtime work.

– The company prevents women from advancing. Robinson is one of two Fortune 500 companies in the state without a woman on its board of directors, according to the suit (Cenex Harvest States is the other). Of its 14 senior executives, only one is female – Laura Gillund, hired two months ago. Of its 146 branch office managers, fewer than five are women, the suit says.

Sprenger partner Larry Schaefer, who worked on the Eveleth case, said the law firm already has gathered a significant amount of evidence.

“We’re used to screening and evaluating very crude and coarse conduct in the workplace, but what we found in the C.H. Robinson workplace shocked us,” he said. Schaefer said pornography collected from computers in two company branch offices filled 30 compact discs and consisted of “really hard-core, shocking depictions of women and men.” – Deborah Caulfield Rybak is at [email protected].

Rybak, Deborah Caulfield


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Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from See: