Meanwhile, back at the VA….

The VA’s monthly report to Congress for November has been released, and we’re still seeing low-tech breaches involving papers being left where they shouldn’t  be left. Exhibit A, from the VA in Boston:

An 11-page clinic list was found in a public bathroom in a heavily trafficked area. The list had been printed on November 4, and was discovered on November 5. It included full SSN and procedure information on 259 veterans. The VA does not believe it was left there overnight, but there are no cameras in that area that would have shown when it was left there, by whom, or how many people might have looked at it. The list covered all clinic appointments for the month of October. All affected veterans were offered credit monitoring protection services.

Exhibit B: a breach involving paper records at the VA in Miami:

A nurse who was working on a project to convert ICD-9 diagnoses to ICD-10 diagnoses lost a list of names and SSNs of veterans whose diagnoses were to be converted. Two pages of a three page report were lost in the VA Canteen. Each page contained the name and SSNs of 60 Veterans.

As a result of this incident, 126 veterans were offered credit monitoring services.

And what, pray tell, were lists with SSN even doing in the Canteen? Doesn’t the VA have any rules about where documents with PHI do not go?

But not all incidents reported in November involved paper records. An encrypted laptop that was stolen in Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in Washington, DC also resulted in notifications to 84 veterans.


In this incident, QTC, a VA contractor, reported to the Contracting Officer’s Representative that a personal laptop had been stolen. This personal laptop was used by the contractor to support VBA M Data Extraction (MDE) Contract medical exams (and no, I don’t what those exams are, but let’s continue….)

QTC was going to provide credit monitoring for 84 veterans. According to the VA’s incident report, the physician stated that he did not store PHI on the laptop, and QTC stated that doing so is against policy, but they had no way of proving he did not, so they were calling it a data breach. The information that could have been stored was name, SSN, and diagnoses, they said.

So QTC was willing to err on the side of caution and provide credit monitoring. But when the  Information Security Officer  and Privacy Officer completed their investigation, and obtained additional information, it turned out that full  SSN would not have been on the laptop, only name, QTC identification number, and medical information. Not only that, but it turns out that the contract states that VA will provide notification, if needed. So what the contractor was willing to take responsibility for as their breach, the VA wound up having to take responsibility for as their breach. The VA notified the 84 individuals, but because there were no SSN, did not offer any credit monitoring.

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