Veterans Denied Damages from Government Computer Breach

June 22, 2009

Two Vietnam veterans are not entitled to damages from a 2007 Department of Veterans Affairs computer security breach in Birmingham, Ala., a federal appeals court panel in Georgia has ruled.

Jim Henry Perkins and Jessie Frank Qualls had to prove in their lawsuit that there were actual damages from the disappearance of a VA hard drive containing Social Security numbers and health care files of 198,000 living veterans, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said.

The decision upholds a ruling by U.S. District Judge Inge P. Johnson of Alabama.

The panel sent the case back to Johnson to ensure that steps are being taken by the VA to prevent the problem from happening again.

It wasn’t the first case of a data being lost from hard drives. In 2006, someone stole data on 26.5 million veterans from a VA employee’s home in Maryland.

The Government Accountability Office later issued a report saying personal data and health information remained at risk because the VA had not implemented several safety measures. Agency officials agreed that some measures weren’t in place but insisted that the VA’s data security was “legally adequate.”

On Feb. 10, a federal judge in Washington approved the government’s plans to pay $20 million to veterans exposed to possible identity theft in 2006’s breach.

Although the FBI determined that the VA data had not been accessed, U.S. District Judge James Robertson said there might be some payments to veterans so stressed by the news that they rushed to purchase credit monitoring.

The VA did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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