WASHINGTON – Personal information on about 2.2 million active-duty military, Guard and Reserve personnel – not just 50,000 as initially believed – was among the data stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee last month, the government said Tuesday.
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the agency was mistaken when it said over the weekend that up to 50,000 Navy and National Guard personnel – and no other active-duty personnel – were affected by the May 3 burglary.
In fact, names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of as many as 1.1 million active-duty personnel from all the armed forces – or 80 percent of all active-duty members – are believed to have been included, along with 430,000 members of the National Guard, and 645,000 members of the Reserves.
“VA remains committed to providing updates on this incident as new information is learned,” Nicholson said in a statement, explaining that it discovered the larger numbers after the VA and Pentagon compared their electronic files more closely.
The disclosure is the latest in a series of revisions by the government as to who was affected since publicizing the burglary on May 22. At the time, the VA said the stolen data involved up to 26.5 million veterans discharged since 1975, as well as some of their spouses.
It also came as a coalition of veterans’ groups charged in a lawsuit against the federal government Tuesday that their privacy rights were violated by the theft. The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, involves Citizen Soldier in New York; National Gulf War Resource Center in Kansas City; Radiated Veterans of America in Carson City, Nev.; Veterans for Peace in St. Louis; and Vietnam Veterans of America in Silver Spring, Md.
“The magnitude of this data breach is simply breathtaking and overwhelming,” said Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He called on the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, to launch an investigation and get a full accounting.
“Instead of continuing to eke out the information, drip by drip, on an almost daily basis, adding to the list of those whose personal information is at risk, the Department of Veterans Affairs must get to the bottom of this now, fix the problem and put veterans’ minds at ease,” he said.