I-Team: Department of Veterans Affairs was warned privacy breach was practically unavoidable

A privacy breach was "practically unavoidable because of problems with the information technology system."
February 21, 2014 3:19:19 PM PST
The I-Team has uncovered documents revealing the Department of Veterans Affairs was warned that a privacy breach, like the one ABC11 exposed last month, was "practically unavoidable because of problems with the VA's information technology system."

The I-Team was the first to report the breach back in January, and obtained new documents Friday.

ABC11 got a hold of the own internal document from the House Veteran Affairs Committee. It literally spells out what could happen, and what did happen, a few months later.

The news broke on Jan. 16. The day after Sylvester Woodland, a veteran who lives in Whispering Pines, told ABC11 other veterans' private information, financial and medical, had repeatedly popped up on his computer, when he was trying to access his own information, which was a clear breach of privacy.

In the days that followed, we learned the same thing had happened to thousands of veterans around the country. The VA called it a software defect.

However, the internal report, put out by the Department of Veterans Affairs last July, shows the VA was warned -- not only that something like that could happen, but that it was practically unavoidable.

The report even gives a timeline, 12 to 18 months, and says the VA cannot ensure the safety and privacy of veteran healthcare, benefits, and financial information. It also says the department is non-compliant with its own policies and federal laws.

"The source of the breach was practically unavoidable," said Bruce Edwards, with North Carolina's VFW.

ABC11 showed the document to Edwards, who noting the VA's history of data breaches, said he was not surprised, but he was outraged.

"This isn't rocket science; this is just computers with people's data on it. How hard can it be?" Edwards said.

The VA has reportedly called the document a draft that was later rescinded and corrected. Nonetheless, for some veterans, including Edwards, that explanation does not hold up.

"Somebody was advising somebody within VA that this could happen. Doesn't matter if it was a draft, or if it was rescinded or not. Somebody told somebody this could happen. And what, 7-8 months ago," he said.

The VA got back to ABC11 with a response to a request for an interview.

The statement read, "VA takes seriously its obligation to properly safeguard any personal information within our possession. VA has in place a strong, multi-layered defense to combat evolving cyber security threats."

The statement did not say anything about the report ABC11 was asking about.

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