VA data theft debacle clean-up to cost tax payers big

Congressional lawmakers yesterday grilled Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson regarding the theft of personal information of 26.5 million U.S. veterans – as well as some spouses – that was stolen from Veterans Affairs after a laptop holding the sensitive data was robbed from the home of a VA data analyst about 3 weeks ago. The information contained on the laptop includes names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers. The theft puts Veterans at high risk for identify theft.

Nicholson in his testimony largely sought to deflect responsibility for the huge security lapse that allowed for the laptop to be stolen, as well as the reported nearly 3 week delay it took for the FBI to be notified of the situation, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Nicholson claimed to be “mad as hell” at the data analyst who took the laptop home and equally annoyed at his deputy secretary, Gordon Mansfield, who had not told him of the breach in security for two weeks, he said.

Neither Congress nor Veteran’s groups were impressed by his response. The largest of all the groups, The Veterans of Foreign Wars, was particularly displeased with the VA’s seemingly lackluster response to the situation which basically includes a recommendation to veterans to check credit reports regularly, the Los Angeles Times reports.           

"Telling 26.5 million veterans to deal with this as individuals is a totally unacceptable response," wrote James Mueller, national commander, VFW, in an e-mailed statement. "We strongly suggest that the federal government start figuring out a way to deal with this problem computer-to-computer between the VA, national credit bureaus and other national institutions."

Doing what Mueller demands will cost tax payers big. First, there is the matter of formally notifying affected veterans by mail which could cost up to $11 million. Even greater will be the cost of preventing and covering potential identity theft and damage to credit histories and other problems which Nicholson stated could cost "way north of $100 million" and possibly as much as $500 million, the Los Angeles Times reports.

White House representatives and as well as VA officials have emphasized that thus far no records have been as yet compromised and that the FBI is making every effort to get them back.