COLUMBIA — Fairfield County veterans whose personal information might have been compromised during a recent security breach at the Dorn VA Medical Center have a new advocate working on their behalf.
The Mike Kelly Law Group, with offices in Winnsboro, recently joined with Columbia attorney Doug Rosinski in filing a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of two veterans whose personal information was compromised along with that of some 7,500 other veterans when an unsecured laptop was stolen from the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center on Feb. 11, 2013.
The two veterans in the lawsuit thus far are from Richland County but Kelly realizes that since Fairfield County veterans are referred to the Dorn VA that there is a good likelihood some of their information was on the missing laptop.
The suit cites numerous VA officials in Washington, D.C., and in Columbia for their “willful and intentional actions and reckless disregard” for the plaintiffs’ privacy. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Dorn VA Medical Center are required to secure personal and health information by federal laws that include the Administrative Procedure Act, the Privacy Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Commenting on the case and the two veterans named in the lawsuit, attorney Mike Kelly said: “Both are distraught that this egregious error was committed and could have easily been avoided had the VA complied with federal laws and accepted standards for protecting sensitive information. As it is, the unprotected personal information was and is accessible and easily copied by anyone in possession of the laptop.
“It is regrettable that the VA has done such a disservice to those who have given their service to our country,” he added.
The missing laptop contained veterans’ full names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, ages, race, and weight. Some files also include confidential medical and disability information. Because the personal information of some 7,500 veterans was on the laptop, the number of plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit may swell.
“We will not find out the extent of this for some time,” he said. “Right now we are in the initial stages of the lawsuit, taking depositions and interviewing witnesses.”
According to Kelly, the VA paid $20 million to veterans and $5 million in legal fees in 2009 and the VA put into place a system that should have prevented laptops from going missing again. Yet, he said, the system failed and someone just walked out the door with an unencrypted VA laptop.
He said people have been contacting his firm since the news broke and that he keeps a database of the callers. If the suit succeeds, then those veterans who are part of the class action lawsuit should receive compensation, according to Kelly.
“This is not as large as the Department of Revenue data breach, but it is potentially more serious because the health information is compromised,” Kelly said.
Such information could be used by unscrupulous individuals in a defaming, embarrassing, humiliating and/or derogatory way, according to Kelly. This is not the first time veterans’ personal information has been compromised or a class action suit filed.
In 2006, the personal information of 26 million veterans was lost as the result of the disappearance of another laptop; Doug Rosinski served as legal counsel to the affected veterans. At the time, VA officials promised they would take action to ensure that veterans’ personal information was safeguarded from loss or theft.
For its part, the Dorn VA Medical Center issued a press release in April notifying the veterans of the missing laptop. As a precaution, the facility is offering one year of free credit monitoring to those affected.
“Any time a veteran’s personal information may be compromised, we take the matter very seriously,” said Rebecca Wiley, director of the Medical Center. “We are reaching out to each veteran who may have been impacted.”
The Dorn VA Medical Center Police and Office of Inspector General are treating the event as a criminal investigation. According to the VA’s April 12 press release, there is no indication the information has been misused and the laptop has not yet been recovered.
The medical center is sending letters to each identified veteran who received testing on that specific pulmonary function testing machine, notifying them and offering free credit monitoring services.
Veterans who have questions or concerns about whether their personal information might have been involved can call Lisa Boxton, the Dorn VA privacy officer, at 803-776-4000, ext. 7692.
Contact Kevin Boozer at 635-4016 ext. 14 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinboozer.