VA to offer protection to some vets after data loss

Thursday - 3/31/2011, 2:57pm EDT

John Buckner
Federal News Radio

The Veterans Affairs Department will offer credit protection services to more than 1,000 people following two incidents exposing veterans' sensitive information.

Roger Baker, VA's assistant secretary in the Office of Information and Technology and chief information officer, said this month's report shows the agency is maintaining the security of veterans' information overall.

However, in February, VA facilities committed two errors, forcing the agency to take cautionary action to protect the identities of veterans.

"We have information found inside a government vehicle by a government employee, a packet of information that contained patient names, social security numbers and appointment dates," said Baker during his monthly call with the press on VA's monthly data breach report to Congress.

Baker said an employee left the envelope in the car for more than four months. The car was involved in an accident and was sent out to a repair shop with the envelope inside.

Baker said VA will offer 1,629 vets credit protection services. VA also will report the incident to the Department of Health and Human Services under the HITECH Act.

A second incident involved a missing box of about 50 to 75 veteran identification cards at the Portland facility.

"The reason they were there is that we mail out identification cards from a centralized facility to veterans, and in these cases they had been returned to the facility because they were for homeless veterans," Baker said.

He added employees searched for the identification cards but could not find them. Baker said since the vets are homeless, notifications will be posted in the Portland facility and new measures are in place to keep the cards locked away in storage.

Other incidents in the monthly report included:

  • 108 mismailing incidents
  • 79 mishandling of documents
  • 12 mismailings under the Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy
  • Lost or stolen computer software

Baker said 25 others will be offered credit protection services after VA discovered a computer with their personal data went missing.

Many of the incidents that happened in February were due to human error. Baker said VA's training programs are targeting ways to reduce those problems.

"It is focused on, if you will, recognizing that something you may view as something simple could have a big impact on veterans," Baker said. "That training is continually tailored to the sort of things we are seeing."

Baker added that VA has asked individual facilities to look at the reports and troubleshoot where they can.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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