News Releases

(Seattle) - Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) demanded action from the Department of Veterans Affairs in response to the recent data theft involving 26.5 million veteran and active military personnel at a press conference held today in downtown Seattle. Senator Murray also unveiled legislation that would provide funding for the response and other critical veteran services during the event.

"This is a disaster," said Senator Murray. "Veterans are calling my office, and they are worried that their privacy has been violated and they are losing faith in the VA. We have the families of soldiers struggling with their family members away from home, now having to worry that thy may be victims of identity theft."

Senator Murray called on the VA to take immediate steps in order to give veterans and those currently serving the peace of mind that they deserve. They included:

  • A full accounting of the theft, including answers on why information has been slow in surfacing in the weeks following the theft and who has been affected,

  • Increased outreach efforts so that veterans are aware of support services that may be available to them, and

  • Safeguards to ensure that a similar security breach never occurs again.

Senator Murray, a member of the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee, also offered up new legislation that addresses a myriad of veterans concerns. The legislation provides funding for the data theft response, health care costs, mental health care and prosthetic services. Much of the funding would directly benefit the VA which is being stretched thin by an influx of Iraq War veterans. Many of those veterans will also benefit from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and transition assistance funding provided in Senator Murray's new legislation.

"I'm introducing legislation because veterans and military personnel deserve better" Murray said. "I believe this administration has a lot of work to do to win back the trust it has squandered, and I'm going to hold them to it."

Senator Murray was also joined at the press conference by Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowski who discussed the state's efforts to protect veterans as well as what the Attorney General's office is doing to assist veterans. Bill Schrier of the Ameican Legion addressed the crowd about how Veterans Service Organizations are assisting in the effort.

Senator Murray's Full Remarks Follow:

When Americans sign up to serve our country in the U.S. military, they put their trust in the federal government. Now that trust has been broken. The VA has compromised the private, personal data of tens of millions of veterans and active duty military. For years, the VA ignored warnings about the way it handles veterans' information. Once the burglary occurred, the VA waited weeks to tell veterans. And it seems like each week we get different answers from the VA about the scale of this problem.

So today I'm joining with law enforcement and veterans advocates to warn those who are affected, to demand that the federal government protect everyone who is threatened, and to announce new legislation to give the VA the initial funding it needs to respond.

I serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Over the years, I've seen problems at the VA, and I've worked to correct them. But this latest problem dwarfs them all in terms of the number of people affected. We're talking about the personal information of up to 26.5 million Americans. That may include up to 80 percent of our active duty military, Guard, and Reserve.

Not only are a lot of people affected, but this information could do a lot of damage if it falls into the wrong hands. Criminals can use this information to get medical information, financial information, and military records. Criminals can use it to open new credit card accounts and can ruin the credit of victims who might not find out until months later.

This is a disaster. Veterans are calling my office, and they are worried that their privacy has been violated and they are losing faith in the VA. We have the families of soldiers -- who are already struggling with their family members away from home – now having to worry that they may be victims of identity theft or other crimes. Can you imagine being a young woman with a couple of children, your spouse is overseas in Iraq, and now you find out that your address has been stolen and your personal safety is at risk? Or imagine her husband – serving in Baghdad. He's already worried about his family. Now he learns that the VA may have lost his personal information – putting his family at risk? We have 85-year-old veterans who don’t know the first thing about credit checks being told that their identity may be compromised. They don’t know what to do.

I am appalled at the pattern of incompetence and negligence at the VA. The VA was warned time and again about the lack of protection for veterans’ sensitive health and benefits information. Yet, the VA seems to have ignored these warnings, and our veterans are paying the price.

In the Senate, I'm demanding action on three steps:

First, we need the full story from the VA. We need to know how this happened. We need to know why it took so long for the VA to warn veterans. And we need to know why so many of the VA's answers changed over time. This happened on May 3rd. Two weeks later, Congress was told about it.

Two weeks after that, we were told that perhaps 50,000 Navy personnel were affected. The next day, we were told that perhaps 80% of active duty military plus all guard and reserve members could be affected. So we need the full story from the VA.

Second, the VA needs to offer help for everyone who is affected. The VA has taken a few steps, but there is a lot more work to do. It needs to offer help to veterans, active duty military and their families so they have the peace of mind they deserve. I told Secretary Nicholson that the VA should start training Veterans Service Reps to help veterans, because those are the people who veterans trust and turn to for help. The VA should also increase outreach efforts, so veterans know what to do.

Third, the VA needs to put safeguards in place so this never happens again. For years, the VA was warned about problems with its information security, but it did not act. We need new safeguards so this never happens again.

Finally, this is going to cost money to fix. And the VA cannot take money out of veterans healthcare or benefits to deal with this mess. I want to make sure that our veterans don’t have a double whammy of not only losing their records but then also being denied services and benefits because the costs aren’t covered.

That's why this week, I will introduce legislation to provide the funding the VA needs for the first phase of its response. My funding will ensure that veterans' healthcare and benefits are NOT raided as the VA addresses this problem. My legislation will also provide funding to help the VA deal with the challenges of the Iraq war. Specifically it will help – fund treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, provide more help with transition assistance by expanding Vet Centers, and help reduce waiting times at VA hospitals and clinics.

New Veterans Legislation

I'm introducing legislation because veterans and our military personnel deserve better. They deserve the peace of mind that their information is protected and their families are safe. I believe that this Administration has a lot of work to do to win back the trust it has squandered, and I'm going to hold them to it.

For those who are concerned about their identity, here are some things you can do.First, carefully review all your financial statements and credit card bills. Look for anything suspicious. If you always get your bill on the first of the month, and it doesn't show up, contact your credit card company or bank. Second, get a copy of your credit report and review it closely for anything that you don't recognize. Third, you can put a "freeze" on your credit file so that others cannot open new accounts in your name. Fourth, be suspicious if anyone calls you – claiming to be from the government or VA – and asks you for your personal information.

Finally, if you have questions, you can call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636). If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or the state Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-551-4636.

Here in our state we're fortunate to have leaders who've worked hard to protect veterans and the public, and I'm pleased to stand with them today.