VA Officials Have Committed Thousands of Privacy Breaches Since 2011

Agency has avoided disciplinary action for violations

Philadelphia VA hospital / AP
• January 6, 2016 3:28 pm


Officials at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have committed 10,000 privacy breaches in the last five years, according to a report on Wednesday.

According to the Washington Examiner:

[The privacy breaches make] the VA the nation’s most prolific violator of laws protecting patients’ personal medical information. However, the government agency tasked with punishing providers who break the law, called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, took no disciplinary action against the VA, according to a review by ProPublica. Breaches ranged from employees accidentally mailing a veteran the wrong medical records to employees intentionally spying on patients’ records.

Violations have included a VA official improperly accessing a veterans’ health records over 60 times and posting some of the individual’s medical information on Facebook. An Oklahoma VA employee was also found to have posted a photo of a veterans’ "exposed buttocks" to Facebook in 2011, according to a 2013 investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the privacy breaches illuminate the lack of accountability at the government agency.

"For years, VA officials have been saying they take privacy violations and data loss ‘very seriously,’ yet in many cases those responsible for intentionally and wrongfully committing these acts face no serious discipline," Miller told the Examiner.

"After listening to VA leaders speak, it’s no wonder why the organization has lost so much trust with the veterans it is charged with serving. VA officials say they don’t tolerate whistleblower retaliation, but the facts prove that they do. VA officials say they are committed to accountability, but time and again the behavior of corrupt and incompetent employees goes virtually unpunished," Miller continued.

Republicans have pushed to increase accountability at the VA by introducing legislation that would allow Secretary Robert McDonald to punish employees for poor performance or misconduct. However, some Democrats have stood in the way of the bill, and President Obama has threatened to veto it.

Numerous watchdog reports in recent months have cast light on mismanagement, poor care, and waste at the VA and its nationwide network of health facilities.

Published under: Veterans, Veterans Affairs