VA data now safer, chief says

MUKILTEO – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has taken steps to safeguard the personal information of millions of veterans and military personnel following the theft of a laptop computer with names and Social Security numbers of millions of service members, the agency’s head said here Thursday.

The laptop was later recovered, and inspections of the computer and hard drive taken in a burglary indicate that the personal data of up to 26.5 million people “likely had not been compromised,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Nicholson said.

If that’s true, it will save the agency millions of dollars that won’t have to be spent on credit monitoring for those affected, Nicholson said. The agency had promised to pay for credit checks if personal information wound up in the wrong hands.

The VA employee, whose Maryland home was burglarized May 3, routinely took his work laptop home, but that practice has stopped, Nicholson said.

“That guy took it home. He’d been taking it home for three years,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said he’s ordered new security measures, including centralizing control of security and forbidding employees to take critical information out of the office.

Nicholson credited good police work in locating the stolen computer.

“By the grace of God, we got that back,” he said. “It’s a wake-up call for us. It’s a wake-up call for America.”

Although there were 26.5 million names among the data, only 17.5 million veterans’ addresses were listed, he said.

Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other information accompanied millions of the names.

Nicholson, the former ambassador to the Vatican, was in Mukilteo to stump for Republican Doug Roulstone, who is challenging Democrat U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen for his 2nd Congressional District seat. He appeared before two dozen Roulstone supporters at a noon luncheon before being whisked off to other events in Bellingham and on Whidbey Island.

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