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US veterans' data exposed after burglary

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A PC containing the personal details of as many as 26.5m US veterans has been stolen from the home of a worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), sparking a major security alert.

A thief broke into the data analyst's home earlier this month and stole the computer during the course of a burglary. The laptop shouldn't have been there in the first place because it's against VA policy to take these files home. The unnamed worker involved has been placed on administrative leave pending an inquiry. Meanwhile, FBI and local law enforcement officials are investigating the security breach.

Compromised information includes the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of millions of former US servicemen and women. In some cases, home addresses, disability ratings, and information on veterans' partners was also exposed as a result of the apparently random burglary. There is no indication as yet that the data has been used in identity theft scans, but VA officials still issued an alert as a precaution.

"What happened is absolutely unacceptable, but the task at hand is to inform every veteran family so that they can begin taking steps to safeguard their personal information," Veterans of Foreign Wars commander-in-chief Jim Muelle said. He added that workers and officials who may have been at fault for the breach would be held accountable for their actions.

The 26.5m names potential involved represent every military veteran discharged since 1975, and possibly earlier if the individual filed a VA claim. The VA said there is no indication that anyone's medical or financial records were compromised, but the VA decided to go public with the breach anyway in an endeavour to warn veterans of the incident.

The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans. Vets can also go to firstgov.gov for more informationh. The VA has also set up a toll-free hotline to answer queries from individual vets and to provide advice on consumer identity protection. This call centre can be reached on 1-800-FED INFO (333-4636). ®

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