More than 2,000 veterans had their PHI breached in April

Another site that reports on health data breaches tends to report on VA breaches in terms of percentage change from the previous month. DataBreaches.net does not do that because, frankly, there’s no consistent pattern or trend, and month-to-month comparisons don’t strike this blogger as particularly useful. Consider the stats from the last three months’ reports:

February Summary:

  • 817 VETERANS AFFECTED
  • 572 Notifications
  • 245 Credit Protection Services Offered
  • Of the total # of Veterans affected, 707 were in relation to protected health information incidents, reported to HHS in accordance with the HITECH Act.

March Summary:

  • 522 VETERANS AFFECTED
  • 288 Notifications
  • 234 Credit Protection Services Offered
  • Of the total # of Veterans affected, 417 were in relation to protected health information incidents, reported to HHS in accordance with the HITECH Act.

 April Summary: 

  • 2,556 VETERANS AFFECTED
  • 1,690 Notifications
  • 866 Credit Protection Services Offered
  • Of the total # of Veterans affected, 2,105 were in relation to protected health information incidents, reported to HHS in accordance with the HITECH Act

As suggested above, April was not a great month for the VA when it comes to breaches involving PHI. Their monthly report to Congress included four incidents that each affected more than 50 veterans. And that’s in addition to other mis-mailing incidents, the mis-handling incidents, and the mis-mailed Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP) incidents. The following is a summary of these four larger incidents reported in April. Note that none of them involved electronic records:

FT Harrison, Montana VA: Mishandling 

A Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) representative sent an unencrypted email to a Veteran with an attachment that contained 162 other Veterans names and SSNs. The email was sent to a yahoo.com account. The recipient agreed to delete the email attachment, and 162 veterans were sent a letter offering credit protection services.

Bay Pines, Florida VA: Mishandling

A VA lawn maintenance worker found a Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD VASH) Veteran contact list with information on 103 veterans outside. The employee stated she took the documents out of the building at 2:00 PM and noticed they were gone at 3:30 PM. It remains unknown how long the documents were on the lawn. VA Police conducted an exterior search of all the parking lots around the building and the wood line on the southern edge with negative results of further documents in the area. 103 Veterans were sent a HIPAA notification letter, and a privacy violation memo was issued. Service Management will propose appropriate disciplinary action for the employee involved in the privacy violation and staff will be educated about unauthorized logbooks.

Hines, IL VA: Mishandling 

A Prosthetics Program Support Assistant (PSA) reported that a package full of approximately 235 patients’ home-oxygen information was mailed from Madison VA on March 25, 2016, via USPS and never arrived. The 235 Veterans were sent a HIPAA notification letter due to Protected Health Information (PHI) being disclosed.

Las Vegas, NV VA: Mishandling

An unknown employee removed documents pertaining to Claims not approved, TORTS, and Billing. onto a public highway and were collected by unknown citizen and turned in. Investigation revealed that the documents had been placed on the roof of the employee’s car and fell off when the employee drove off.

The Privacy Officer is not able to verify how long the information was missing. The documents involve 28 Veterans with full name, address, Date of Birth and gender. Other documents involve 84 Veterans with full name and claim numbers.

The documents were in a regular envelope and not the required red locked bags and located nowhere near a VA facility.  28 Veterans were sent a letter offering credit protection services. A HIPAA notification letter was sent to 84 Veterans.

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