More sensitive information goes missing from VA

A desktop computer possibly containing the names, Social Security numbers and medical data of up to 38,000 people is missing from the offices of a Veterans Affairs Department subcontractor.

VA officials announced Monday that the computer has gone missing. The offices of New Jersey Republicans Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Jim Saxton released a statement Friday saying the computer had been stolen from a Reston, Va., office complex.

The computer is believed to contain the personal records of people who received treatment at the department's medical centers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia during the past four years, VA stated. The computer also may contain addresses, birth dates, insurance carrier and billing information, and dates of military service.

VA estimates the records include information on about 5,000 patients in Philadelphia, 11,000 in Pittsburgh and 2,000 deceased patients. The agency is investigating whether the computer contained information on another 20,000 individuals who received medical care at the Pittsburgh center.

The subcontractor, Unisys Corp., was hired to assist in insurance collections for those medical centers. VA said it is working with Unisys to offer notifications and credit monitoring to those who may be affected.

VA was notified Thursday afternoon by Unisys of the missing computer and dispatched a team to the offices near the Dulles Airport to determine the contents of the computer. Department officials immediately informed the appropriate congressional offices and committees of the breach.

VA Secretary James Nicholson said the department's inspector general, the FBI and local law enforcement are investigating the matter.

The incident comes less than three months after a laptop computer containing the personal information of 26.5 million people was stolen from the home of a VA employee.

The information has since been recovered and suspects arrested, but only after millions of dollars were spent notifying veterans; at least five VA officials resigned and more than a half-dozen congressional hearings were held by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and two by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Since the first data breach, Nicholson has vowed to make VA's information security the best in the government by instituting a series of reforms of what critics say is a dysfunctional IT organization.

Nicholson said, "VA is making progress to reform its information technology and cybersecurity procedures," but the most recent data breach "underscores the complexity of the work ahead as we establish VA as a leader in data and information security."

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer, R-Ind., called the latest incident a "frustrating reminder of the urgent need for action" on legislation (H.R. 5835) that passed out of his committee last month. The bill would further centralize information technology authority at the department and would require credit protection and fraud resolution services upon request.

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