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WASHINGTON — Servicemembers and veterans whose personal information may have been compromised in a data theft last month will receive a year’s free credit monitoring, but it won’t be available until August, Veterans Affairs Department officials said.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson could not estimate how much the program would cost, but he said the move was necessary because of “the disservice that has been done to them.”

Last month, a laptop with personal information of 26.5 million veterans and current military personnel was stolen from the home of a VA employee. The data analyst was not authorized to take the sensitive information home, and law enforcement officials remain concerned that the stolen files could be used for identity theft crimes.

Those potentially affected include about 1.1 million active duty troops and 1.1 million guardsmen and reservists, whose information was given to the VA in connection with their participation in things such as the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program and the VA home loans program.

In total, about 17.5 million individuals’ Social Security numbers were lost.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have been calling for free credit monitoring for those affected by the theft since the lost data was made public four weeks ago.

Nicholson said funding for the free credit monitoring could come from administrative cuts within the department. Officials have already begun discussing the funding with the president and members of Congress.

“But we will not hurt any services currently being provided to veterans,” he said.

Before the service is made available, the department must open bidding to credit monitoring services, then mail out information on how to enroll to all of those affected, Nicholson said. That process is expected to take all of July, if not longer.

VA spokesman Matt Burns said officials are still working with Department of Defense officials to determine how servicemembers overseas will be enrolled in the program.

The department also will hire an outside contractor to monitor the compromised databases and to review private credit records, to see if the information stolen is being used illegally. Nicholson could not estimate the cost of that move either.

VA officials have already spent about $14 million setting up a call center to answer questions about the theft and mailing out letters explaining the situation to the 17.5 million people whose Social Security numbers were lost.

So far, FBI officials have not reported any cases of the lost information being used for identity theft crimes. “There is no panic, but there is concern,” Nicholson said.

The VA has set up a hot line — (800) 333-4636 — to answer veterans’ and current military personnel’s questions regarding the lost data and its potential abuses. Additional information is also available at: www.firstgov.gov.

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