VA Providing Credit Monitoring to Misidentified Veterans

US Dept of Veterans Affairs–WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs is offering free credit monitoring to more than 2,200 Veterans whose personal information, including social security numbers, was posted on Ancestry.com following the mistaken release of data through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). “VA places the highest priority upon safeguarding the personal information of our Veterans,” said Jerry L. Davis, VA’s chief information security officer. “When lapses occur, we will immediately take prompt remedial action, such as notification.” The family history website, which provides access to genealogical and historical information, had requested information from VA about deceased Veterans. Under FOIA, VA is obligated to release requested records upon written request unless they may be withheld. Therefore, VA provided the website with the data on March 18, 2011. On Dec. 13, 2011, after the information had been posted on the history website, VA learned that it included data about some living Veterans because some of the death reports provided to the website were inaccurate. “Fortunately, no personal health information was included in this data release,” Davis said. “Ancestry.com has worked with us and immediately removed all the information that we had supplied them.” There is no indication personally identifiable information of any Veteran has been misused. However, VA is still notifying all potentially affected Veterans so they can be vigilant and take steps to protect against identity theft. VA is also offering credit monitoring for one year at no charge to every Veteran whose name was mistakenly released and posted on the history website. FOIA requires federal agencies to disclose requested records unless they may be withheld under specific statutory exemptions. Under FOIA, VA was obligated to provide the website with the name, social security number, date of birth, date of death, military branch assignments, and the dates of entry on active duty and release from active duty for deceased Veterans. VA has launched an effort to determine why information about living Veterans was included in a database about deceased Veterans. The error did not affect the VA benefits of any Veteran. VA is committed to protecting Veterans’ personal information and to improving information processing to avoid erroneous data. Veterans who believe they may have been affected by this incident who have not been notified by VA may verify whether their information was involved by writing to: Department of Veterans Affairs, OIT Privacy Officer (005R1A), 810 Vermont Ave., NW Washington DC 20420, (Attn: Garnett Best). Affected Veterans can request a free credit report for one year from one or more of the three national credit bureaus by calling 1-877-322-8228 or by visiting http://www.annualcreditreport.com. Information about this and other protections, including placing a “fraud alert” on credit accounts, is available by calling the Federal Trade Commission at its toll free number, 1-877-438-4338, or by visiting its website, http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/index.html

Dear Friends and Clients,

In furtherance of our firm’s culture of commitment to always act with compassion, concern and commitment to our clients, community and colleagues, we have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligations while prioritizing health, wellness and safety of all we can.

As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced changes to many lives and businesses in our communities, and around the world. We, much like our neighbors and friends, have been taking precautions to ensure that we are still fulfilling our ethical and moral obligation to our clients, while also prioritizing the health, wellness and safety of our employees.

Until further notice, our offices will be closed to the public to encourage social distancing and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our team is still hard at work, many from home, and you may still call, email, live chat or video conference us if you or a loved one is seeking legal assistance. As the first law firm to offer our clients secure online access to their case file more than a decade ago, we have always been believers in using technology to make life easier and information more accessible. In these present times it has been a smooth transition for us to continue to offer our clients the same seamless and thorough service that you deserve and are accustomed to.

This pandemic is unlike anything any of us have faced in our lifetimes, and while we can continue to emotionally support one another through it all, staying home and keeping your distance is vital to the health and wellness of our communities. It does not feel good to break routines, cancel events and retreat from our normal, day-to-day socializing, but let us remember that, in times of strife, prior generations were asked to go to war and we are simply being asked to stay home. Your isolation equals more lives saved, and more time for medical providers to prepare for the treatment of patients battling COVID-19.

When the dust settles, we will join together with a greater appreciation for our lives, local businesses, loved ones and health. Until then, we will continue to offer guidance from a safe distance.

Very truly yours,

Andrew G. Finkelstein and the staff of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP