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Public Statements

Chafee Pledges to Work to Protect America's Veterans

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Chafee Pledges to Work to Protect America's Veterans
Participates in Senate Hearing Investigating Security Lapse

Today, U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) pledged his support for the Congressional action necessary to protect America's veterans after a Senate hearing on the loss of 26.5 million records of veterans and spouses by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The hearing was held to address the issue of information security and to find ways to prevent such an incident from happening again.

The Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs and Homeland Security and Government Affairs (HSGAC) conducted a joint hearing, titled "VA Data Privacy Breach: Twenty-Six Million People Deserve Answers," to investigate this breach in security. Senator Chafee is a member of HSGAC.

"It's an understatement to say that the exposure of over 26 million personal records of our nation's veterans is a potential disaster, and a real embarrassment. This is the second largest data loss ever, but even worse, it is the fault of our own Government—at the potential expense of those who risked their lives in service," Senator Chafee said.

"As a result of this enormous lapse, we may have put over 26 million veterans at risk, and it is now our duty to ensure that they remain protected. We must work with the VA to find the resources necessary to monitor credit statements and ensure that no further tampering occurs."

Chafee expressed support for efforts to assist the VA in remedying this problem.

"I am pleased that this hearing was called to answer pressing questions: How was this massive amount of sensitive data able to be taken outside the VA? Why did it take nearly two weeks for the Secretary to learn of the breach? How do we make sure this does not happen again? And, most importantly, right now, how do we help the veterans and their families who may have been exposed?

Furthermore, this incident has caused us to examine the overall state of information security at the VA, which appears to be poor. In over a dozen reports over the past five years, the VA Inspector General has identified personal information security as a major problem. Why has VA management not implemented specific GAO recommendations to improve these problems?" Chafee continued.

Controversy arose when the VA learned that an employee took home electronic data in violation of VA policies. The employee's home was burglarized and the data was stolen. This data contained identifying information - including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings. Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records nor any financial information.

The FBI and the VA Inspector General's office have launched full-scale investigations into this matter. The Congress is working with the VA and other government agencies to help ensure that those veterans and their families are aware of the situation and of the steps they may take to protect themselves from misuse of their personal information.

The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans to every extent possible.

Veterans can also visit www.va.gov, www.firstgov.gov, or www.va.gov/opa to get more information on this matter. Additionally, the VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections. That toll-free number is 1-800-FED INFO (333-4636). The call center will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday as long as it is needed. The call center will be able to handle up to 20,000 calls per hour (260,000 calls per day).

Testifying at the hearing were R. James Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (accompanied by Tim S. McClain, General Counsel for the VA) and George J. Opfer, the VA's Inspector General (accompanied by Jon A. Wooditch, the VA's Deputy Inspector General).

http://chafee.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=366&Month=5&Year=2006

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