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Update: Another VA computer missing

Missing from a subcontractor's office, it contains personal data on 38,000 vets

By Linda Rosencrance
August 8, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said the stolen computer was a laptop.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs yesterday announced that a desktop computer containing the personal information on 38,000 veterans is missing from the office of Unisys Corp., the subcontractor hired to assist in insurance collection for the VA's medical centers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

"VA's inspector general, the FBI and local law enforcement are conducting a thorough investigation of this matter," Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson said in a statement. Unisys told the VA on Aug. 3 that the computer was missing from its Reston, Va., offices. The VA immediately sent a team to Unisys to help search for the missing computer and to determine exactly what information it contained.

The VA said it believes the data involved is limited to veterans who received treatment at the two Pennsylvania medical centers during the past four years. According to the agency, the desktop computer may have contained patients' names, addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, the names of their insurance companies, billing information, dates of military service and claims data that may include some medical information.

The VA estimates that the computer contained information on approximately 5,000 patients treated at a center in Philadelphia, approximately 11,000 patients treated at a Pittsburgh facility and about 2,000 deceased patients. The VA is also investigating the possibility that the computer contained information on another 20,000 people who received care through the Pittsburgh medical center.

VA officials are also working with Unisys about notifying those who may be affected and offering them credit-monitoring services.

Unisys officials today continued their search for the missing desktop. The company can't say for certain that it was stolen and is not ruling out the possibility that it had been misplaced. "We can't find it. It's missing from where it's regularly housed and the building has been swept several times," said Lisa Meyers, a company spokeswoman.

Unisys is continuing to review security tapes, records and logs and conduct interviews. "It is ongoing," said Meyers of the company's search for the desktop.

The Reston facility from which the computer disappeared has been used by Unisys since June 2004, said Meyers. There have been no previous reports of thefts from it.

The work being done for the VA wasn't classified, although Unisys does work for other government agencies that is classified, and the building has security guards working around-the-clock, with video monitoring of exits and entrances -- including elevators -- as well as a need for key cards.

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