WASHINGTON — The government said Tuesday it would no longer offer free credit monitoring for up to 26.5 million veterans whose sensitive information was stolen since the data had been recovered.
The announcement came one week after the FBI determined with what it said was a “high degree of confidence” that the information stored on a Veterans Affairs employee’s laptop and external drive had not been accessed. Still, it drew a protest from veterans groups who said the VA was abandoning a promise to protect them.
“We are outraged that the administration would renege on its offer of one free year of credit monitoring,” said Bob Wallace, executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars. “There is no 100 percent assurance that the laptop was not compromised.”
“The VA is guilty of allowing the information to be compromised due to a lack of leadership,” he said. “It’s unconscionable to have veterans and those serving in harm’s way to be fending for themselves.”
Steve Robertson, legislative director of the American Legion, said many of its members had already signed up for credit monitoring, expecting that the government would reimburse them.
“They need to notify the veterans for those who have already signed up they will honor the promise they made,” he said. “They’re going to be awfully embarrassed if it proves the information had been compromised after all.”
In a letter Tuesday to Congress, White House budget director Rob Portman said he was canceling his office’s request last month for $160.5 million in additional funding for the VA to provide one year of free monitoring to millions of veterans and active-duty troops.
“On the basis of the FBI’s analysis, the administration has concluded that credit monitoring services and the associated funding will no longer be necessary,” Portman wrote to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
VA spokesman Matt Burns said the department planned to hire a company to provide data breach analysis to detect potential patterns of misuse of veterans’ information. The VA also was working to strengthen information security and empower its chief information officer to enforce policies.
“Data breach analysis will provide additional assurances,” Burns said. “VA has funds in its budget that can be used for this purpose, and there will be no reduction in the quality of health care and other services provided to veterans.”