- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

It turns out that the massive Veterans Affairs data theft was even worse than initially reported. On Wednesday, the Associated Press revealed that the laptop stolen by the Aspen Hill burglar or burglars also contains phone numbers and addresses of an unknown number of veterans — which could compound the misery for the estimated 26.5 million affected veterans and family members. This news coincided with a headline-hungry response from zealous Democrat Paul Hackett: a lawsuit on behalf of the veterans. Mr. Hackett seeks $1,000 and federally funded credit monitoring for each aggrieved person.

This is litigiousness at its worst. A lawsuit cannot substitute for the proper functioning of the executive and legislative branches, where the remedy for such a massive security breach rightly belongs. Obviously something has gone very wrong here and the Bush administration along with congressional overseers are duty-bound to get to the bottom of it and make whole any veteran who is harmed.

Doing this will entail better security technology, pink slips, tougher background checks, tighter data protocols and stiffer penalties. Making people whole will require the government to compensate the victims of identity theft. Certainly, everyone else whose personal information is at risk but isn’t victimized is entitled to credit-monitoring help from the government, too — unless and until the unlikely day that the data are retrieved and proven to be uncompromised.

But only if one approves the classic milk-the-government so favored by Democratic politicians can one think that a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs is the appropriate response. A few simple points of math reveal it to be a sham. Raiding the coffers for $26.5 billion is reckless, and it endangers the many missions the VA is entrusted with and further burdens the already stressed Treasury. Nor would it accomplish much for the recipients: $1,000 is small consolation for a person who finds himself submerged in the seemingly endless red tape and feeling of financial ruin which afflicts victims of identity theft.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is reeling these days, and rightly so. It must undergo painful reforms. It must rid itself of culpable employees to regain trust and it must overhaul its security technology and protocol. A lawsuit cannot substitute for that difficult process of executive action and congressional oversight, however satisfying it might feel to think otherwise.

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