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WASHINGTON — Personal information of more than 26.5 million veterans was stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee earlier this month, potentially exposing them to identity theft, according to the head of the agency.

The list includes every veteran discharged between 1975 and April of this year, including recently separated Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to department officials.

Information stolen included their names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and some disability ratings. In a news conference Monday, VA Secretary James Nicholson said the theft also affects some spouses of those veterans.

The employee whose home was burglarized was authorized to use the data for research at work but violated department rules by taking the information home. Nicholson said that worker has been placed on administrative leave while officials investigate the case.

“We believe this was a random burglary ... but because of the nature of the data we must exercise an abundance of caution,” Nicholson said. “But there is no indication that there has been any use made of this data.”

No financial data or specific medical information was included in the theft, Nicholson said. So far there is no indication the data has been used in identity theft schemes or other criminal activity.

Officials would not provide details on exactly when or where the theft happened, what format the information was in, or even precisely who is investigating the incident, besides the department and FBI. Nicholson said that’s because investigators still believe the personal data was not the goal of the burglary.

“We do not want to let the people who stole this information to know what they have,” he said. “We don’t want to give them any clues.”

Officials are encouraging all veterans whose personal information was compromised to monitor their financial accounts. The department will provide assistance to veterans through a toll-free number, 1-800-333-4636, and through the Web site www.firstgov.gov.

They are also recommending that the affected veterans place a fraud alert on their credit file through one of the three major credit services:

Equifax, 877-478-7625 or www.equifax.com.Experian, 888-397-3742; www.experian.com.TransUnion, 800-680- 7289; www.transunion.com.All affected veterans will also receive a letter from the department explaining the theft and the investigation, Nicholson said.

Meanwhile, all VA employees will be required to review department computer protocols in light of the data mishandling.

Last month an employee of health insurer Aetna had a laptop stolen from his car. The computer contained personal information of more than 35,000 Defense Department employees.

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