Missing VA hard drive contains 535,000 personal records

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In another security lapse for the Department of Veterans Affairs, department officials recently announced that a portable computer hard drive is missing. The hard drive contains the personal information of 535,000 individuals, The Birmingham News reports.

VA officials said that the drive might also contain details pertaining to 1.3 million non-VA physicians, though some of the information is encrypted making it difficult or impossible to access. Though the hard drive belongs to a Birmingham VA Medical Center in Alabama, the information was being used for a national study and therefore the information is not exclusively from that area, a VA official said.

VA officials expect this week to begin notifying people who may have been affected. There is no indication yet that any of the data has been misused. The VA is making arrangements to provide one year of free credit report monitoring to people if their personal information is compromised, the Birmingham News reports.

According to the report, the hard drive held the Social Security numbers for over 535,000 people, with around 10,000 people’s names matched to the numbers. Making matter potentially worse, the drive also held certain Medicare billing records and billing codes for physicians. A least a portion of the information on the drive was already available in public domain.

An FBI is conducting an investigation into the incident, and since it was reported, the VA’s inspector general's office has seized an employee's work materials for analysis. The employee is now on leave.

The VA has initiated a process to notify affected individuals and a call center has been established (1-877-894-2600). The VA said it doesn't currently have reason to believe the data has been misused data by anyone.