Updated: Veterans' data stolen

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. May 24 to add information about upcoming congressional hearings.

Two Senate committees will hold a joint hearing at 10 a.m. May 25 on the theft of about 26.5 million veterans’ personal data earlier this month. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees will meet to hear testimony from James Nicholson, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ secretary, who announced the theft May 22.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. May 25.

Personal information about up to 26.5 million veterans, including their names, Social Security numbers, disability ratings and birth dates, was stolen from the home of a Veterans Affairs department employee who took it home without authorization, according to VA officials.

The agency posted a notice on Firstgov.gov alerting veterans to the theft. The data was stolen this month, but the VA did not specify the date.

According to the notice, a data analyst took the information home. The analyst’s home was then burglarized and the thieves took the device containing the data. VA officials said the thieves likely didn’t know what the data was and may still be unaware that they have it. The data did not include electronic health records or financial information, according to the announcement. It did, however, contain some personal information about some spouses of veterans.

The VA called the FBI to investigate the incident and placed the employee on administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe.

The agency set up a manned call center at 1-800-FED INFO ((800) 333-4636) for veterans and their spouses to call for information. It also created an information Web site and FAQ for veterans at http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml.

At a press conference this morning, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson declined to say what format the data was in and whether it was stored on a laptop PC or desktop computer.

Nicholson said he briefed the co-chairmen of the President’s Identity Theft Task Force —Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Deborah Majoras — on the situation. He also said that the VA has taken measures to alert veterans and reduce confusion.

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