Security crackdown at VA

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi on Tuesday ordered his chief information officer to come up with new safeguards to protect the VA compensation system.

Principi took the action in the wake of the arrest of three suspects last week in Atlanta who allegedly used the names of dead veterans to defraud the agency of nearly $6 million. From July 1996 until last month, the suspects allegedly received 246 fraudulent disability claims in the names of the veterans.

The VA secretary announced a series of actions designed to "ensure that VA's systemic weaknesses are identified and corrected." He told VA CIO John Gauss to identify IT safeguards that can swiftly be put in place to detect vulnerabilities with the VA's payment systems. He asked the VA's inspector general to conduct an investigation and determine whether there are other cases of fraud.

Meanwhile, two top VA officials Joseph Thompson, the VA's undersecretary for benefits, and Patrick Nappi, the undersecretary for operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration, resigned.

"Accountability is an important part of leadership. A captain is responsible for the safety of the ship. All VA leaders are responsible for the integrity of the programs entrusted to them," Principi said in a statement.

Principi's action comes in the wake of repeated reports and criticism that VA's system security is not tight enough. Gauss, who has been on the job less than a month, has been focusing on information security and already has issued memos pertaining to a tighter policy.

Nevertheless, the fraud in Atlanta is one of the worst cases VA has experienced. It was uncovered when one of the suspects received more than $200,000 in retroactive disability payments in his account with the Navy Federal Credit Union. The payments had different VA claim numbers and different Social Security numbers.

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