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Veterans want VA to pay for credit checks after data theft

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — A leading veterans group wants the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for every single veteran to obtain a credit check after personal data on 26.5 million veterans was stolen earlier this month.

Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., said Tuesday the department should cover those costs “for the foreseeable future” in response to the security lapse.

“This is the largest case of potential identify theft in the nation, and it’s caused by the government organization that’s responsible for the care and well-being of our veterans,” Davis said.

On Monday, the VA announced that personal information on about 26.5 million veterans and spouses was stolen from the home of a department employee. The list includes every veteran separated between 1975 and April of this year, and includes names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and some spousal information.

All U.S. citizens are entitled to one free credit report a year under legislation passed by Congress in 2003. But more extensive monitoring, such as monthly credit record checks, can cost about $100 a year.

Congress is looking into whether the VA has the authority to cover the costs of veterans’ credit checks, said Jeff Schrade, spokesman for the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. If the VA lacks such authority, Congress may have to pass a law allowing the department to give veterans the money for credit checks.

“I think the sentiment of most members on the committee — if not all — is that innocent people be held innocent and not liable for the cost of this potential breach,” he said.

VA spokesman Matt Burns could not say whether officials there are considering paying for the extra credit checks.

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. Davis said the VA also needs to enforce its rules on the handling of personal information and was firm about what he thinks should happen to the employee.

“He should be terminated,” Davis said. “Once the investigation is complete, the employee and any supervisors who gave tacit approval for the employee who did this work at home should be terminated.”

As of Tuesday, the employee who took the stolen information was on administrative leave, Burns said. In response to the incident, all VA employees are now required to complete training on handling information by June 30.

Bobby Muller, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, called the incident a “wake-up call” for the VA.

“It appears that the VA did not have adequate measures in place to prevent an incident like this from happening,” he said. “This pattern of lack of planning by the VA is troublesome and produces serious questions with implications far beyond this serious breach.”

On Capitol Hill, officials from both the House and Senate promised investigations into the incident. In a statement Monday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called for a massive overhaul of the VA’s security systems.

“This is no way to treat those who have worn the uniform of our country,” he said.


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