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Mideast edition, Sunday, September 2, 2007

WASHINGTON — The vice commander of the American Ex-Prisoners of War insists that none of his group’s files are missing or in danger, but other group personnel are still warning that veterans’ addresses and Social Security numbers may have been compromised.

The personal data of more than 35,000 former POWs and their families is at the center of an internal dispute in the group.

Last week, officer personnel from the group’s Texas headquarters issued a press release warning that the groups’ computers and mail had been stolen in a break-in on Aug. 11. But group vice commander Charlie Hill, who lives in South Carolina, said the files and hard drives were removed as part of an internal audit, and are all accounted for.

“There was no break-in and they knew it,” he said. “They had no authority to make those statements and worry people.”

But Clydie Morgan, national adjutant for the group, said Hill and group commander Robert Fletcher took the items without following board procedure, and did not provide enough information about how the files would be secured.

“Right now, the equipment is out of our control, and if we don’t know where our database is, we have to warn our members,” she said.

Hill said the individuals performing the audit are professionals qualified to securely handle the sensitive information, although he declined to name the company involved.

Hill disputes Morgan’s accusation that the audit breaks organization rules, and insists that the Texas office personnel ignored specific instructions from group leaders in an effort to undermine the audit. The study was launched by Hill and Fletcher after questions arose about the headquarters staff’s handling of payments.

Local police have declined to further investigate the matter, classifying it as an internal dispute. Department of Veterans Affairs officials in Washington say they also will not get involved, although representatives from the VA inspector general’s office in Dallas are monitoring the situation because of the information involved.

The American Ex-Prisoners of War organization, founded in 1942, is open to all former military prisoners of war, all former civilian internees, and the families of those individuals.

VA officials said they have not provided any database access to the group, so the personal information they hold comes from information given by their membership. Group officials said the digital and paper records include addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and VA claims data of former POWs and their families.

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