By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer
The Department of Veterans Affairs began notifying 1.8 million
veterans and doctors Monday that their personal and business
information could be on a portable hard drive that has been missing
from an Alabama hospital for nearly three weeks.
The hard drive may have contained Social Security numbers and other
personal information from about 535,000 individuals and billing
information on 1.3 million doctors nationwide, the VA said. That's
more than 37 times more people than authorities initially believed
An employee at the VA medical center in Birmingham reported the
external hard drive missing on Jan. 22. The drive was used to back up
information on the employee's office computer. It may have contained
data from research projects, the department said.
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis questioned why it took the agency so long to
begin sending out notification letters.
"I certainly understand that the VA wanted to get a handle on the
facts. But it became very apparent very early on that they had a
breach of security," said Davis, a Democrat from Birmingham.
Veterans Affairs officials said they were moving as quickly as they
could. "We are providing information as we learn it from an
investigation," said spokesman Matt Burns in Washington.
The VA first publicly revealed the equipment was missing 11 days after
it was reported, saying then that personal information on as many as
48,000 veterans may have been stolen.
The VA said Monday it doesn't have any reason to believe anyone has
misused data from the hard drive, which is also at the center of a
criminal investigation. The agency offered a year of free credit
monitoring to anyone whose information is compromised.
Davis said the department told him that the missing storage unit
included the Social Security numbers and names of about 10,000 people,
plus another 525,000 Social Security numbers. The information on
doctors includes names and Medicare billing codes, he said.
Last year, a VA executive stepped down from his job and a data analyst
was fired after the agency failed to immediately reveal the theft of a
laptop computer and disks that contained personal information on 26.5
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
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