Monday, May 22, 2006

A new VA Benefit

Being an active duty serviceman or woman or a U.S. military veteran just got even a little tougher recently. The home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee was broken into in Aspen Hills, Md on May 3 and thieves stole a laptop computer and external hard drive. Normally this wouldn't be big news, but this government employee's laptop computer contained the records of 26.5 million veterans and some veterans spouses which had been taken home, against departmental policy, to work on a project. The records taken include names, birth dates and Social Security numbers. As the Washington Post reported, "The theft represents the biggest unauthorized disclosure ever of Social Security data, and it could make affected veterans vulnerable to credit card fraud if the burglars realize the value of the data, one expert said."

So on top of scores of proposed and planned closures of VA hospitals and shrinking benefits, now being a veteran also means running the very real risk of identity theft. Most likely, the thieves didn't know exactly what they had stolen. However, if they did realize it, or whoever they may have sold the laptop to realized it, the credit histories of literally millions of veterans are at risk. Additionally, this information can provide a large amount of revenue to criminal organizations or, ironically, terrorist organizations.

Predictably, in another great example of closing the barn door after the horse gets out, Sen. Larry Craig, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee is planning to hold hearings. Additionally, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised "zero tolerance" for anyone using this information illegally.

If the first Gulf War, which was over in the blink of an eye, helped spawn the likes of Timothy McVeigh, how many more Timothy McVeighs is this war spawning?

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