Free Credit-Monitoring for Veterans Whose Data Was Stolen
By DAVID STOUT
Published: June 21, 2006
WASHINGTON, June 21 — The Department of Veterans Affairs said today that it
would provide a year of free credit-monitoring for people whose personal
information might have been compromised in the recent theft of department
Secretary R. James Nicholson said his department would solicit bids from
monitoring companies and would send letters by mid-August to those who might
have been affected by the data loss, which occurred on May 3 when the home
of a department data analyst was burglarized.
Mr. Nicholson said the free credit-monitoring was part of his agency's
attempt to atone for the "terrible, unfortunate, regrettable" data loss that
appears certain to cost taxpayers well over $20 million. "Free
credit-monitoring will help safeguard those who may be affected and will
provide them with the peace of mind they deserve," he said.
Mr. Nicholson said his department would also retain a company to look for
possible misuse of the stolen data by pinpointing suspicious use of identity
information. So far, he emphasized at a news briefing, there have been no
indications that any of the stolen information has been misused — nor any
sign of progress in recovering it.
The data were on a laptop computer and detachable hard drive that the
department analyst took home without authorization. Although the police in
Montgomery County, Md., have said the burglars were probably interested in
the computer, rather than any data on it, there has been widespread concern
that the data could be used for credit-card fraud and other crimes
associated with identity theft.
The data include names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers for
millions of people — although just how many has not always been clear. At
first, the veterans agency said information on about 26.5 million veterans
was affected. Then it said the 26.5 million included active-duty people as
well as veterans.
The agency said today that only about 17.5 million people were at risk, and
that the earlier, higher estimate had not taken into account deaths and
duplication among records. (People who fear they may be affected by the
theft can log on to www.firstgov.gov for more information.)
Mr. Nicholson said his department had spent about $7 million sending warning
letters to people who might be affected and another $7 million to operate a
telephone call-in center. It will probably spend another $7 million on
letters describing the credit-monitoring service, he said. The secretary did
not discuss how much the credit-monitoring and data analysis may cost.
Mr. Nicholson said the fate of the data analyst whose house was burglarized
has yet to be determined. The secretary said he wanted to dismiss him
outright but was told he could not because of job-protection rights enjoyed
by federal employees. Mr. Nicholson said the employee "was not intending to
do harm, we're convinced of that," but still should not work at the
The theft of the data, the disclosure that Mr. Nicholson was not notified by
his subordinates for almost two weeks and confusion about the scope of the
loss have caused the Department of Veterans Affairs to come under harsh
criticism, from veterans and on Capitol Hill. One lawmaker wondered aloud at
a recent hearing at the harm caused by "a garden-variety burglary."
Mr. Nicholson, who has been secretary since January 2005, has responded to
the episode by forcing out some subordinates and hiring a former Arizona
prosecutor, Richard Romley, as a special adviser for information security.
The secretary said a review is under way to ensure that only those
department employees needing it have access to sensitive material. He said
he was determined to root out complacency and make his department "the gold
standard for data security."