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Veterans: Senator Murray Grills VA Secretary over Loss of Veterans' Personal Data

May 25 2006

Tens of Millions of Veterans Could Be Subject to Identity Theft through the Department's Failures

Photo | Listen to Murray's aggressive questioning of VA Secretary

(Washington, D.C.) – Today at a joint Senate hearing, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) aggressively questioned Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson about the recent theft of personal information of up to 26.5 million veterans.



"This is a disaster. Our phones are ringing off the hook with veterans from all over the country who feel their privacy has been violated and who are losing faith in the VA," Murray said. "Mr. Secretary, I have to tell you, from where I sit this seems like just another demonstration of your agency’s incompetence."



This week, the VA announced that an employee, without authorization, had taken home a database containing the names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of up to 26.5 million veterans. The list was stolen from the employee's home on May 3rd, but the VA did not announce the problem publicly until May 22nd. Murray asked why the Department took so long to notify veterans who are at risk of identify theft.



Murray also asked about the cost of the VA's response and said that those costs should not come at the expense of veterans healthcare.



"I want to make sure that our veterans don't get a double whammy of not only losing their records but then being denied services because the costs are not covered," Murray said.



Murray pointed out that a series of reports from the VA's Inspector General had warned the agency about problems with information security.



"The VA was warned about its lack of protection for veterans' sensitive health care and benefits information. Yet, these warnings seem to have gone unnoticed by leadership within the VA," Murray told Secretary Nicholson.



Senator Murray's opening statement follows:



I would like to thank Chairmen Craig and Collins, as well as Ranking Members Akaka and Lieberman for calling today’s hearing. Simply put, this is a disaster. Our phones are ringing off the hook with veterans from all over the country who feel their privacy has been violated and who are losing faith in the VA.



We have 85-year-old veterans who don't know the first thing about credit checks being told their identity may be compromised. They don't know what to do. And we need to find a way to provide all the assistance our veterans need to give them the peace of mind they deserve.



I know that some will say that this is an isolated incident, that this is just an accident caused by one employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But, Mr. Secretary, I have to tell you, from where I sit this seems like just another demonstration of your agency’s incompetence.



The VA was told again and again by the IG that it had weaknesses in its information security systems. The VA was warned about its lack of protection for veterans’ sensitive health care and benefits information. Yet, these warnings seem to have gone unnoticed by leadership within the VA.



I hope to hear from you, Secretary Nicholson about how this happened. Why did it take so long to tell our veterans their information could be compromised? What you are doing to rectify this situation? And what steps your taking to ensure that it never happens again?



Again as we have discussed before, these committees, and this Congress have instilled you with the responsibility to fight for and defend our veterans. You should be a veteran's greatest advocate. I am very disappointed by what has transpired, and I hope that you truly rise to the occasion and show all of us here, and the millions of veterans at risk, that you are here to protect them – even from your agency’s own mistakes.