The General Accounting Office reported yesterday that the Veterans Administration, without consulting the individual involved, routinely gives information on veterans and their families to hundreds of different federal and state agencies, hospitals, schools, veterans' organizations, lawyers and even foreign governments.
In addition, according to the GAO report, any inquirer is entitled to learn how much pension, compensation, educational allowance or retirement pay any veteran is receiving. This is mandated by a little-known provision of law. VA officials said.
The report on how the Veterans Administration distributes this information is in a GAO analysis of a computerized information system, called the target system, being developed by VA. The congressional agency's study was requested by Reps. John E. Moss (D-Califf.) and Charles Rose (D-N.C.) to determine whether the target system would lead to abuses of the right of privacy.
The GAO report said the new computerized system appears to contain substantial safeguards against unauthorized release of information - although more attention must be given to the possibility that an individual posing as a specific veteran might be able to obtain information about that veteran by telephone from a VA information center.
But the report also reveals that there are numerous authorized releases of information.VA, which has information in its files and data banks on millions of veterans and their families, has listed 30 different types of information that it will give - without notifying the veteran involved - to various persons requesting it in writing, although sometimes via phone when the caller is an official known to the VA.
These types of information include medical and service records, application for pension, compensation and various other benefits, information about income, occupation, educational and marital status.
Most of the 30 situations involve providing information to Social Security Administration, welfare agencies, hospitals and schools to help determine whether the veteran is eligible for certain benefits, or needs certain types of aid and treatment. But information can also be given to various law enforcement agencies and even foreign governments to help in criminal and civil cases, to state driver license and auto title bureaus, to prospective employers.
Va officials conceded the agency had wide scope, but General Counsel Guy McMichael said, "We're pretty damned careful about what we give out." He said only minimal information is provided over the telephone. For medical records, he said, a written request from one of the authorized recipients is required.
The GAO report on VA records comes on the heels of a similar one revealing that Social Security records on millions of persons were being made available to states, local governments and various other agencies.