VA releases details of missing computer

The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged today reports that a subcontractor, hired to assist in insurance collections for the VA’s medical centers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, has reported a desktop computer containing personal information on some veterans missing from its offices.

The “VA’s inspector general, the FBI and local law enforcement are conducting a thorough investigation of this matter,” VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said in a statement this afternoon.

Unisys, the subcontractor notified the department Aug. 3 that the computer was missing from its Reston, Va., office, according to the statement. The “VA immediately dispatched a team to Unisys to assist in the search for the missing computer and to help determine the precise nature of the information it may have contained,” it states.

VA employees “took immediate steps to notify the appropriate senior VA leadership, including the secretary and deputy secretary, appropriate congressional offices and committees, VA’s Office of the Inspector General, and other law enforcement authorities, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Response Team,” according to the statement.

The investigation is in its early stages, but the VA believes the records involved are limited to information about people who received treatment at medical centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the past four years, the statement reads.

The computer may have contained patients’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurance carriers and billing information, dates of military service, and claims data that may include some medical information on about 5,000 patients treated in Philadelphia, about 11,000 patients treated in Pittsburgh and about 2,000 deceased patients, according to the statement.

The VA is also investigating the possibility that the computer may have contained information on an additional 20,000 people who received care at the Pittsburgh medical center.

Unisys is fully cooperating in the investigation and has offered credit monitoring and individual notifications to those who may be affected, the statement adds.

The “VA is making progress to reform its information technology and cybersecurity procedures, but this report of a missing computer at a subcontractor’s secure building underscores the complexity of the work ahead,” Nicholson said.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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