Media contact: Jeff Schrade (202) 224-9093
(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the lead Republican on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said today that he is pleased that federal officials have made progress in protecting the computerized records of the nation's 24.5 million veterans.
But while praising that progress, the North Carolina legislator also encouraged federal officials to take swift action to make more active duty military health records accessible to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I would like to see VA and DOD work harder to make this transition happen more quickly," said Burr at a hearing held Wednesday on VA information technology.
Under the current plan laid out by VA and DOD officials, the integration of the two different medical records systems will require a six-phase transition which is not scheduled to be completed until 2015.
"There is no louder cheerleader for what you're doing than the Congress of the United States, and we all hope that you're successful in the rollout of this new information technology structure," said Burr. "I just want you to know that we're watching and keeping the pressure on."
Burr directed his remarks to the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, General Robert Howard. He was appointed to the agency last year after the theft of an external hard drive containing the personal information of approximately 26 million veterans was stolen from the home of a VA researcher.
Howard told the committee that his agency has made significant progress in protecting information about veterans.
"VA has encrypted over 18,000 laptop computers, and has implemented procedures for issuing encrypted portable data storage devices. This month, the Department is procuring software to address the encryption of data at rest. And just last week we awarded a contract for an extensive port monitoring capability which will help us better control what devices can access our network," Howard said.
Despite those achievements, a witness from the Government Accountability Office warned the committee that veterans' personal data and health information remain at risk of identity theft because VA has yet to implement several safety measures.
But Howard noted that VA computers now have software which prevents the Social Security numbers of veterans from being sent via e-mail, unless it is encrypted. He told the committee that in the first month after the new software was installed, about 7,000 e-mails containing Social Security numbers were stopped before being sent in an unencrypted manner.