Theft of VA files puts Carper at some risk
By JENNIFER BROOKS
News Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Among the millions of names and files stolen from the Department of Veterans Affairs this month may have been some pretty recognizable faces on Capitol Hill.
But even for congressional victims of identity theft, getting answers out of the VA isn't easy.
"We called the hot line. We got a machine. We left a message," said Bill Ghent, spokesman for Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. -- one of at least a dozen members of Congress whose name and personal data may have been stolen from the home of a VA employee this month.
A burglar walked away from a suburban Maryland home with data on 26.5 million veterans -- just about anyone who was discharged from the military after 1975. The VA has set up a hot line for concerned veterans and posted information on its Web site.
Carper served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and remained in the Reserves until 1991.
There are 128 military veterans serving in the House and 39 in the Senate, according to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. A number of them were discharged from the service well after 1975. President Bush, who left the Air National Guard in 1972, should be safe.
Members of Congress who have been pushing for tougher laws against identity theft hope this latest lapse will bring those bills to the floor this year.
"We need to change our practices. People need to be much more protective of their data," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., who became a victim of identity theft several years ago when a thief lifted his credit card number off a store receipt.
Castle authored a bill, now under consideration in the House, that would set tougher data security and anti-fraud standards for financial institutions -- a bill he now thinks should be broadened to include data from federal agencies. Carper co-authored the Senate version of the bill.
Even though the VA data breach was caused by an employee who violated agency protocol and took home sensitive data to work on, Castle said the VA case highlights the need for better electronic security at every level in government and the private sector.
He called on the House leadership to take fast action on the various identity-theft bills.
"I haven't heard from them," Castle said. "But they're going to hear from me."