VA cannot allay vets' fear of identity theft

A Veterans Affairs Department hot line does not offer individual veterans answers to whether their records and personal information are at risk after a computer containing records on every living veteran was stolen earlier this month.

The hot line recording tells callers that the VA believes that the theft of a computer from the home of an agency data analyst was a “random act, and not a deliberate attempt to steal information about veterans.”

The recording adds that the VA has no reason to believe any information about the veterans will be misused. The VA does not yet have “any information about individual records that may have been stolen,” but it will provide updates on the FirstGov Web site (www.firstgov.gov), the message states.

The VA hot line offers veterans the option of talking to an agent. In one call, the agent explained that records for veterans discharged after 1975, when the VA automated its records, were at risk. But the speaker said that veterans discharged before that date who filed claims for educational or disability benefits also were at risk because those claims and records were included in the automated record system.

The VA hot line agent, who told FCW that veterans need to monitor credit card activity, provided phone numbers for credit reporting agencies. The agent also said that if identity theft does occur, veterans should file a police report as well as a report to the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft Web site (http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/).

In a related development, Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo) introduced legislation May 23 to provide free credit monitoring and credit reports for veterans and others affected by the computer or data theft. The bill also contains a provision to ensure that veterans and others are appropriately notified if a theft occurs.

The Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees will both hold hearings on the data theft tomorrow.

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