The Veterans Affairs Department this week will begin notifying thousands of individuals whose sensitive information may be on a portable hard drive missing and possibly stolen from the Birmingham, Ala., VA office. An employee at the Birmingham VA Medical Center reported an external hard drive missing on Jan. 22. The hard drive was used to back up information on the employee's office computer. It may have contained data from research projects the employee was working on. An ongoing investigation by the VA and its inspector general's office has found that data files the employee was working with may have included sensitive VA-related information on approximately 535,000 individuals, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said in a written statement.
The probe has also determined that information on approximately 1.3 million non-VA physiciansboth living and deceasedcould have been stored on the missing hard drive. However, VA officials believe that most of the physician information is readily available to the public. Some of the files, however, may contain sensitive information, Nicholson said.
The employee who reported the missing hard drive has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Besides notifying individuals on the missing hard drive, the VA is also making arrangements to provide one year of free credit monitoring to those whose information proves compromised.