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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials faced a fresh round of bipartisan criticism over data security Wednesday after auditors told a congressional committee that gaping holes persist and agency officials said they still don’t know how a recent breach happened.

The department’s inspector general’s office told the House Veterans Affairs oversight subcommittee that even after a series of lapses in the past year, most VA data remains unencrypted and the department still doesn’t know how many portable computers and hard drives are in use or what information is stored on them.

VA Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield also acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of medical providers whose sensitive information may have been compromised in Birmingham, Ala., more than a month ago have still not been notified they are at risk.

“It’s very frustrating to see the lack of progress here,” said Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla.

Maureen Regan, counselor to the inspector general, said the VA still hasn’t fully implemented any of its recommendations from reports dating back to 2001.

Senator asks for $300M more for injured vetsHONOLULU — Citing a TV news special by wounded journalist Bob Woodruff, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said Wednesday he wants Congress to approve $300 million more for the Veterans’ Administration to treat brain injuries.

Akaka, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, alleged in a news release that the Bush Administration has underestimated the cost of caring for veterans who have suffered brain injuries and other severe wounds.

He added the Veterans Administration was “wholly unprepared” to deal with veterans returning from Iraq.

The program highlighted Woodruff’s recovery and showed how veterans with similar brain injuries are coping back home.

“Looking at these young soldiers with such devastating injuries, we are reminded of the true costs of war,” Akaka said.

The senator said he would raise his strong concerns about government care for troops with brain injuries when he meets Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson on Thursday.

Wiesbaden elementary teacher diesJoyce D. Ladson, a Sure Start teacher at Hainerberg Elementary School in Wiesbaden, Germany, was found dead in her hotel room Tuesday, according to a Department of Defense Dependents Schools news release. She was 64.

After failing to come to work, school officials became concerned and contacted the hotel. A German doctor pronounced her dead at the scene. The cause of death is undetermined, the release stated.

Ladson was living at the hotel while awaiting permanent accommodations, the release stated.

She had been teaching at Hainerberg since the beginning of the school year and had transferred there after the closing of Bad Nauheim Elementary School in Germany.

A teacher with DODDS for more than 36 years, Ladson also had worked in the Philippines, Panama and Okinawa. She is survived by brothers Herbert Ladson and Robert Washington.

Memorial services are being planned, the release stated.

Trial slated for gang-initiation deathKAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The court-martial for the first soldier accused in the alleged 2005 gang-initiation beating death of Sgt. Juwan Johnson will begin April 30.

The arraignment of Spc. Bobby D. Morrissette took place Thursday afternoon in Kaiserslautern. Morrissette faces six charges, ranging from involuntary manslaughter to making a false official statement. The charges stem from allegations of his involvement in Johnson’s death, gang hazing and assaulting a teenage German girl. He faces a maximum sentence of 26½ years’ confinement, a dishonorable discharge, reduction to E-1 and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Maj. Jeremy Robinson, lead defense counsel for Morrissette, deferred Thursday on entering pleas for the charges. The court-martial is scheduled to conclude May 4. Military judge Lt. Col. Edward J. O’Brien issued an order to potential panel members in the court-martial to avoid pretrial publicity.

Second court-martial set for officerSEATTLE — The U.S. Army has set a second court-martial for July 16 for an officer who refused to deploy to Iraq and spoke out against the war and the Bush administration.

The first military trial for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada ended in a mistrial Feb. 7, when the judge said he did not believe Watada, 28, fully understood a pretrial agreement he had signed.

On Friday, the Army refiled charges of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. If convicted, Watada could be sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.

Eric Seitz, Watada’s attorney, has said he will seek to have the charges dismissed on the grounds they violate the Constitution’s protection against being tried twice for the same crime.

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