(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) today succeeded in passing emergency funding through the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that veterans healthcare and benefits are not raided as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responds to last month's data security breach. The amendment passed 15-13 and garnered the support of two Republican members of the Committee.
"The VA's announcement that they will provide free credit monitoring for those whose personal information was put in jeopardy is a first step in taking responsibility for this breach," Murray said. "Now, we need to ensure that veterans and military personnel don't pay twice for the VA's mistakes. By passing this emergency amendment, we sent a clear message to the VA that they need to pay for their breach responsibly."
"The United States has an obligation to protect the private information of our veterans and our military men and women. But when it came to meeting that obligation, the VA failed. This amendment is an effort to clean up the VA's mess," Senator Byrd said. "If this personal information finds its way into the wrong hands, criminals could use it to fraudulently apply for credit cards, cell phones, or other consumer purchases, leaving the charges to be paid by an unsuspecting veteran."
Yesterday, the VA announced it would provide one year of free credit monitoring for millions of veterans and service members whose credit and personal information may have been compromised by the VA. The VA estimates that service will cost $160 million, and the agency is in discussions with Congress about where to find the money to pay for it.
Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and Byrd, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, are concerned that the VA will fund that program by cutting money from the VA's healthcare, benefits or information technology accounts.
"This is a disaster that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix. If we don’t provide emergency funding, the VA will take that money out of the services and benefits our veterans rely on," Murray said. "Veterans and members of our active duty military have been hurt once by the VA. We need to provide the funding to make sure they are not hurt again."
The Murray/Byrd amendment to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Act of 2007 provides $160 million in emergency funding to the VA for the agency's recently announced credit monitoring services.
"It's not acceptable to tell veterans – 'We lost your personal information and by the way, we're going to cut your healthcare and benefits to pay for this mess that we created,' " Murray said.
Next, the full Senate must pass the Agriculture Appropriations Act. A date for that has not been scheduled.