Veterans assess info theft risk
By AMBER WALZ
Saturday, May 27, 2006 11:35 PM MDT
A security breach of veterans' records has caused needed debate about prevention as well as detection of identity theft and has spurred full-scale investigations by both the FBI and the Veterans Affairs Inspector General's office.
The records were stolen during a burglary of the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data analyst on May 3. The data analyst violated departmental policy by bringing home a laptop containing a database of sensitive information. It is likely the largest ever reported security breach of social security numbers, affecting 26.5 million veterans discharged since 1975 and their spouses.
Boulder County officials say there are more than 20 thousand veterans in the area, but less than half of them were discharged since 1975.
“It's the same chances of winning the lottery,” said Boulder Vet Center office manager and veteran Brent Offermann. “There's some bright people in Washington, D.C., that will take care of the issue.”
This is not an isolated incident.
“It's very common,” said University of Colorado-Boulder VA Services assistant and veteran Peggy Foster of identity theft. “It happened to me before and everything was stolen. Now I'm very cautious about giving my information out.”
The information stolen from the VA data analyst included social security numbers, names, birthdates and disability rating information that tells each person's level of disability, but didn't include financial and health record information. Veteran department officials waited two weeks to notify those affected and the FBI, but there is no evidence that the information has been misused yet.
“I don't fault the employees,” Foster said. “They are all understaffed and overwhelmed. It's unfortunate.”
(I thought this was one of the better quotes from VA officials I'd seen in the last few days. I'm going to spend some time trying to figure out exactly what he means when Brent says, "It's the same chances of winning the lottery..." in reference to the theft of Veteran's personal data. There must be some gold in there somewhere and I'll find it if I just ponder it long enough. Then Peggy tells us that, "It's very common..." as she explains away data identity theft with a quick pooh poohing. After all, it's happened to her, it happens to everyone nowadays, right? No big deal. It's like being mugged or carjacked or raped, it happens to almost everyone and not much can be done so suck it up why don't you? And we all agree; "I don't fault the employees...They are all understaffed and overwhelmed. It's unfortunate." No, we should never ever fault any employees if they're understaffed and overwhelmed. In the last 30 or 40 years this country has learned a few things about not blaming anyone for a piss poor performance and the VA epitomizes that philosophy. If you're understaffed and overwhelmed and accidents happen, well hey...it can't be helped, right? Ask any doctor or nurse or fireman. Brent would be forgiving if his mom didn't get her 9 PM medications in the ICU and had a stroke...I know he would, you know that nursing shortage is tough, right Brent? So somebody's mom is going to come up short, this time it was yours and we all feel bad but...understaffing and overwhelming, gosh, you know. Brent and Peggy are the perfect spokespersons for the VA system as it exists today. "Don't blame us!" is the motto. "We knew it was illegal, immoral and reprehensible to do this but that's how it's been done forever and we didn't think anyone would notice." is their operating call to get the job half done. "It's 4 PM and I'm going home." is how they handle the mound of work that piles up over the years. Is there a single person who believes the mystery employee who had the laptop stolen was taking it home to work on it? Class? Anyone? Class?)