Thursday, June 01, 2006

Stolen data on vets include addresses, phone numbers

Stolen data on vets include addresses, phone numbers
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department lost more personal data on 26.5 million veterans than it first acknowledged last week, according to a memo released Wednesday. In addition to Social Security numbers and birthdates, files stolen from a VA analyst's home last month included addresses and phone numbers in many cases, the memo said.

One file containing more than 6,700 records pertaining to veterans exposed to mustard gas was lost, said the memo, which was written by a VA privacy officer. The VA gave the memo to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee at the request of Rep. Bob Filner of California, the panel's acting ranking Democrat. USA TODAY obtained the memo from the committee.

Privacy experts say the Social Security numbers could be used to open fraudulent credit cards or bank accounts.

"These types of data contain more than limited financial information. The codes contain information about veterans' medical conditions," Filner said in a statement.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA needs to do a better job of reaching out to affected veterans. He said it's particularly important for the department to contact older veterans and their families to encourage them to monitor their bank and credit card accounts.

"It's maddening that the VA is not more forthcoming," Davis said.

Matthew Burns, a spokesman for the VA, said the department has taken aggressive steps to secure its data, including personnel changes in the department from which the data were lost.

"VA's initial and primary efforts have focused on notifying veterans and some spouses whose most sensitive and identifiable information ... may have been compromised," Burns said.

The VA said it was dismissing the analyst, and his supervisor has resigned. Dennis Duffy, the acting head of the division in which the analyst worked, has been placed on administrative leave.

Also Wednesday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson named former Maricopa County, Ariz., prosecutor Richard Romley as his new special adviser for information security.

A department analyst had taken the data home on computer disks and an external storage device, the memo said. On May 3, burglars stole the disks, memory device and a laptop computer from the analyst's suburban Washington home. Nicholson has said that the crime appeared to be random and that the data were not a target.

The memo noted that the information was written in a code that requires training and software to access. The VA says it has not received reports of stolen data being used for fraudulent purposes.

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