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Vets' information recovered

Nearly two months after the private information of 26.5 million military veterans was stolen, the Veterans Administration announced it has recovered the stolen computer.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson made the announcement Thursday morning during a hearing related to the theft.

The veterans' data was stolen when a VA employee who had the information stored on a laptop computer had his house burglarized and the computer taken in May of this year.

Personal information included Social Security numbers, birth dates, phone numbers and addresses according to internal VA documents.

Investigators were able to positively match the serial numbers of the laptop and hard drive to those on record to identify the computer.

There has been no indication of wether or not the personal information contained in the computers was transferred, altered or otherwise tampered with.

"I am glad that the laptop has been recovered," said Robert Scott, the veterans advisor for WorkSource Whidbey, "but that is small potatoes to what may have been copied, electronically or otherwise, and distributed."

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen has pushed for passage of legislation assisting Washington State veterans deal with the problem.

Larsen expressed a cautious attitude about the news of the recovered laptop.

"I'm very encouraged by the news that the laptop was recovered," Larsen said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Though I'm encouraged, I still advise veterans to be vigilant."

Larsen says that he applauds the many law enforcement agencies involved in the recovery effort.

"Veterans still need to be asking the question of why did this happen," said Larsen. "Why did a government employee have a laptop with 26.5 million veterans' information on it at their home? The VA still needs to answer that question."

Nicholson made an announcement last week that veterans affected by recent personal information theft would receive one year of free credit monitoring.

Larsen hopes that promise will still be honored. It is not clear at this time if that offer will still be extended.

The magnitude of the theft is still impacting veterans on Whidbey Island, some of whom will continue to have their guard up.

"My habits have changed drastically, and I daily check my personal accounts looking for irregularities," said Scott.

Although Scott acknowledges the recovery as a positive sign, he feels the government has more work to do on the issue of information security.

"It still does not address my concerns as to how much of a veteran’s personal data has been compromised and what safeguards have been put into place so that a situation like this will not occur again," said Scott.

For now VA will continue to operate a call center for people to get information about this incident and learn more about consumer-identity protections. That toll free number is 1-800-333-4636.

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