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Data Theft Affected Most in Military

Montgomery County police are offering a $50,000 reward for information that allows authorities to recover the laptop. The computer is a Hewlett-Packard model zv5360us and the external hard drive is an HP External Personal Media Drive.

The Washington Post is not publishing the name of the career data analyst whose laptop was stolen in response to a request from law enforcement authorities who are investigating its disappearance.

The breach outraged veterans -- even more so because senior VA officials knew about the theft within hours of the crime but did not tell VA Secretary Jim Nicholson until 13 days later. The 60-year-old analyst, who had been taking home sensitive data for at least three years without authorization, has been fired, officials have said. His boss resigned last week and another senior VA official is on administrative leave pending investigations by the FBI, the VA inspector general and Montgomery County police.

A coalition of veterans groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government yesterday, contending that privacy rights were violated and seeking $1,000 in damages for each affected veteran.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, demands that VA fully disclose who was affected by the theft, and asks a court to prohibit VA workers from using sensitive data until safeguards are in place. Burns said the department does not comment on pending litigation. He said VA has received no reports of stolen data being used for identity theft or other criminal activity.

VA receives records for every new recruit because active-duty personnel, National Guard members and reservists are eligible for certain VA benefits, such as GI Bill educational assistance and the home-loan program.

"The department will continue to make every effort to inform and help protect those potentially affected, and is working with the Department of Defense to notify all affected personnel," Nicholson said.

Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said yesterday that he was "appalled" at the data breach and called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into VA information security practices.

Research shows that it is not unusual for government employees to take home sensitive data on laptops, Lewis said. "The rules we have are either chaotic or nonexistent. . . . We still have a paper rules government when we are a digital nation."

Staff writer Ernesto Londoño contributed to this report.

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