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VA betrays those it should be serving

Is it any wonder that we are losing faith in the federal government.

Earlier this week it was revealed that personal data on 26.5 million veterans was stolen from the home of a Veterans Affairs employee.

On Wednesday, Jim Nicholson, the Veterans Affairs secretary, acknowledged that the theft occurred on May 3, which was nearly three weeks before millions of veterans would learn their personal information had been stolen in an apparent burglary.



Nicholson learned of the theft on May 16. The FBI says it was not contacted until late last week about the theft of the government-owned laptop and disks from the VA employee’s home in Maryland.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that Veterans Affairs was one of eight federal departments that received failing grades in 2005 for computer security practices.




So it was hardly reassuring to hear Nicholson proclaim Wednesday “that he will not tolerate inaction and poor judgment when it comes to protecting our veterans.”

He does, however, raise the question of what action will be taken to punish the employee who has now exposed 26.5 million veterans to identity thieves? What other measures will be taken to protect the veterans who are innocent victims of this bureaucratic malfeasance? And, finally, who will be held accountable for the fact the department apparently took few, if any, steps to improve computer security practices since the failing grade was issued in 2005?

Since it is safe to assume the federal government is still months if not years away from addressing this problem, we will slip into private-sector mode and offer some immediate actions.

• The employee who took the data home should be fired, prosecuted and then sent to jail if he or she is found guilty.

• Any Veterans Affairs employee who should have been aware of the missing data should be fired.

• Any federal employee who played any role in the withholding of this information from the FBI or to superiors in Veterans Affairs should be fired.

• Nicholson should explain to the public what steps the agency has taken since 2005 to improve computer security at Veterans Affairs.

• The federal government should notify veterans whose personal data was on the stolen disks and then promise to compensate them for any financial hardship that comes as the result of the theft.

In all likelihood, however, this investigation will fall into the same black hole that shields most federal investigations from public scrutiny. It is also most certain that the bureaucrats at Veterans Affairs will be far more concerned with their futures than those of 26.5 million veterans.

Whatever happened to a government for the people?


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