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Stolen VA Laptop and Hard Drive Recovered

The Bush administration this week asked Congress for $160.5 million to pay for free credit monitoring for veterans and military personnel. VA already has budgeted $25 million to create a call center to handle veterans' questions and to send letters alerting veterans about the theft. Several veterans groups have filed class-action lawsuits locally and in Kentucky against the government, seeking $1,000 in damages per affected veteran.

Initially, VA thought that all of the 26.5 million people affected were veterans. But a database comparison revealed that the stolen equipment also contained Social Security numbers and other personal information for as many as 2.2 million U.S. military personnel, including 1.1 million active-duty military personnel, 430,000 National Guard members and 645,000 reserve members.

Nicholson said it is too early to tell whether free-credit monitoring for veterans is now unnecessary. VA still plans to hire a data analysis company to monitor whether veterans' identities are being stolen, he said.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) said yesterday that three VA documents obtained by the Veterans Affairs Committee indicate that the data analyst was authorized to take a laptop home and use a software package to access the data. That contradicted Nicholson's previous testimony that the employee was not authorized to have the information at home.

"He got all the approvals that he was supposed to have," Filner said. "I don't know of a policy that he violated, if you'll tell me one. And that's the real negligence -- that there were no policies."

Nicholson said he had not seen the documents, and declined to comment because the career analyst is challenging Nicholson's decision to fire him.

Tim S. McClain, VA's general counsel, told the panel that one of the documents did not apply to the laptop that was stolen. He acknowledged that the other documents granted the analyst access to Social Security numbers and permitted him to have software at home.

Jim Mueller, commander-in-chief of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars, applauded the equipment's recovery, but said in a statement that Nicholson still has much to do to repair the agency's reputation.

"The longer Secretary Nicholson waits to hold people accountable, the more confidence he will lose in the eyes of America's veterans, their families, and those who wear the uniform today," he said.

Staff writer Ernesto Londo?o contributed to this report.

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