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Public Statements

"The Veterans Privacy Act"

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, today, I am introducing a bill, the Veterans' Privacy Act, a bill that directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to prescribe regulations ensuring that, when veterans receive care from VA, their privacy will not be violated by unauthorized video surveillance.

By its very nature, medical care requires that an individual forfeit some privacy in order to obtain treatment. However, when a veteran walks into a VA medical facility, they should not have to worry about a covert camera being in their treatment room.

Last June, a covert camera disguised as a smoke detector was installed in the room of a brain damaged veteran who was being treated at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida. Upon discovering the hidden camera, the veteran's family was understandably outraged.

When the veteran's family asked about the camera, VA officials first stated that the camera did not exist, then changed their story and admitted that the ``smoke detector'' was actually a video camera. When further asked if the camera was recording, VA told the family that the camera was only ``monitoring'' the patient and was not recording. Only after inquiries by local media and the House Veterans' Affairs Committee did VA admit that the camera was recording. VA then removed the camera from the patient's room.

In the wake of this incident, I sent a letter to VA asking for its legal authority to place a camera in a patient's room without consent. VA stated that its legal opinion was that the hidden camera did not violate the law, but that it was developing a national policy to address the issue of video surveillance of patients. In response to a recent status request on this national policy from my staff, VA stated that it did not expect to have the policy finalized before September 2013, well over a year after this incident occurred.

I am deeply disturbed at VA's callous actions and response to the privacy interests of this veteran, and can't help but wonder whether similar incidents are occurring across the country, especially since VA still lacks a national policy in this area. The least we can do is ensure basic privacy rights of the men and women who have served our country when they seek the treatment they have earned.

Mr. Speaker, no veteran should have to worry about being secretly recorded when he or she goes to VA for medical treatment, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the Veterans' Privacy Act.

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