- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Personal information on 26.5 million veterans that was stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee this month included not only Social Security numbers and birth dates but in many cases phone numbers and addresses, internal documents show.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA needs to come clean about who exactly is at risk.

“What’s so upsetting and frustrating is the lack of specific details coming from the VA,” he said.

“We have millions of veterans looking to the VA for answers, including older veterans who may not have Internet access or fully comprehend what this means to them, and younger veterans who will now have to carry this dark cloud with them for the rest of their lives.”

Meanwhile, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said yesterday that he had named a former Arizona prosecutor as a special adviser for information security, a new three-month post that will pinpoint security problems at the VA and develop recommendations for improvements.

The three pages of memos by the VA, written by privacy officer Mark Whitney and distributed to high-level officials shortly after the May 3 burglary, offer new details on the scope of one of the nation’s largest security breaches. The memos were obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press.

They show that a file containing 6,744 records pertaining to “mustard gas veterans” — or those who participated in chemical testing programs during World War II — was breached, and that a “short file” with as many as 10 diagnostic codes indicating a veteran’s disability also was stolen.

At the same time, however, the memos suggest that the data might be difficult to retrieve by thieves.

A spokesman for the VA did not have immediate comment on the memos.

Some lawmakers said they were troubled by the new revelations, which go further than what the VA initially reported after publicizing the theft on May 22. At the time, Mr. Nicholson said the information was limited to names, Social Security numbers and birth dates; he later indicated that diagnostic codes in some cases also may have been breached.

“It is not appropriate for this information to ever enter the public domain,” said Rep. Bob Filner of California, a top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which is planning to hold several additional hearings on data security and veterans’ benefits this summer.

In a statement, Mr. Nicholson said he had appointed former Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley as his new adviser for information security. Mr. Nicholson cited a need for dramatic security changes in the wake of the burglary.

Mr. Romley, a Vietnam War veteran, prosecuted one of the largest public corruption cases in Arizona in the early 1990s and was seen as a potential Republican contender in that state’s governor’s race this year.

Michael McLendon, VA deputy assistant secretary for policy, said Tuesday he was stepping down because of the theft, and the VA announced it would dismiss the data analyst from whose home the files were stolen. The analyst had reported to Mr. McLendon.


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