Data on 2.2 million active-duty troops stolen from VA employee
(6/07/06 - WASHINGTON) -- Nearly all active-duty military, Guard and Reserve members about 2.2 million total may be at risk for identity theft because their personal information was among those stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee last month.
In a new disclosure Tuesday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the agency was mistaken when it said over the weekend that up to 50,000 Navy and National Guard personnel were among the 26.5 million veterans whose names, birthdates and Social Security numbers were stolen on May 3.
The number is actually much higher because the VA realized it had records on file for most active-duty personnel because they are eligible to receive VA benefits such as GI Bill educational assistance and the home loan guarantee program.
In a statement, Nicholson said the VA's latest review found the data included as many as 1.1 million active-duty personnel from all the armed forces, along with 430,000 members of the National Guard, and 645,000 members of the Reserves.
He noted that the agency has been notifying all affected veterans and that there have been no reports of identity theft in what has become one of the nation's largest security breaches.
"VA remains committed to providing updates on this incident as new information is learned," Nicholson said, explaining that it discovered the larger numbers after the VA and Pentagon compared their electronic files more closely.
Veterans groups expressed outrage over the announcement, the latest in a series of revelations by the government as to who was affected since publicizing the burglary on May 22. At the time, the VA said the stolen data involved veterans discharged since 1975, as well as some of their spouses.
"Our Armed Forces personnel have enough on their plates with fighting the global war on terror let alone having to worry about theft identity while deployed overseas," said Ramona Joyce, spokeswoman for the American Legion.
Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA must come clean after three weeks of "this debacle."
"This confirms the VFW's worst fear from day one that the loss of data encompasses every single person who did wear the uniform and does wear the uniform today," Davis said.
A lawsuit filed by five veterans groups on Tuesday demanded that the VA fully disclose which military personnel are affected by the data theft and seeks $1,000 in damages for each person. The veterans are also seeking a court order barring VA employees from using sensitive data until independent experts determine proper safeguards.
"VA arrogantly compounded its disregard for veterans' privacy rights by recklessly failing to make even the most rudimentary effort to safeguard this trove of the personally identifiable information from unauthorized disclosure," the complaint says.
In response to the lawsuit, the VA said it is in discussions with credit-monitoring services to determine "how veterans and others potentially affected can best be served" in the aftermath of the theft, said spokesman Matt Burns.
Maryland authorities, meanwhile, announced they were offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of the laptop or media drive taken during the May 3 burglary at a VA data analyst's home in Aspen Hill, Md.
They asked that anyone who purchased a used Hewlett Packard Laptop model
zv5360us or HP external personal media drive after May 3 to call Montgomery County Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Anyone with the stolen equipment can turn it in anonymously and become eligible for the $50,000 reward, police said.
Veterans groups have criticized the VA for a three-week delay in publicizing the burglary. The VA initially disclosed the burglary May 22, saying it involved the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers and in some cases, disability codes of veterans discharged since 1975.
Since then, it has also acknowledged that phone numbers and addresses of many of those veterans also may have been included.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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