The Department of Veterans Affairs is still pushing its Million Veteran Program as a “new” DNA database seeking veterans to consent to their DNA being used in the database, and that its “safe” database is supported by a Google Cloud partner.

WCPO Channel 9 of Cincinnati just published a supposed new news story about the “new” DNA database “called the Million Veteran Program” that is a “voluntary research program funded entirely by the VA’s Office of Research & Development.”

VA staff physician John Harley says participants “data is safe” because a barcode is stamped onto the tube of blood rather than the veteran’s name. “The tube we have is marked with a barcode so your name isn’t on that. You’re completely protected.”

Perhaps “safe” is a relative term depending on how you view use of cloud technology and algorithms that specialize in de-anonymizing data. The statement from Harley is misleading in that readers would be led to believe the data merely stays in the bottle with a barcode affixed to it. But, that is just not accurate.

Google Cloud Partner

Seven Bridges, a Google Cloud partner, facilitates the data interchange between the agency database and the private sector researchers making millions creating new medical breakthroughs. Cloud computing systems tied in with the database are spread throughout the country from Atlanta to Stanford.

Two months ago, Google announced its foreign company DeepMind, an England-based artificial intelligence company, will be accessing veteran genomic data within the MVP program. Shulkin reassured the public that the data would be anonymized under HIPAA but such private information protection rules have long been known to be inadequate in today’s era of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, DeepMind was pinched in England for failing to take adequate steps to inform participants of their involvement over The Pond.

In 2016, I busted a deal between AI start-up Flow Health before the Russian-linked company was able to access MVP data. After exposing the deal, VA admitted the deal was illegal, but the agency refused to provide any contract discussing Flow Health’s access.

RELATED: Veterans Affairs Almost Gave Away Veteran MVP Genomic Data To Russian Affiliated Company

It took me writing a blog post after reviewing press releases to catch the almost illegal breach of veterans’ privacy related to the MVP program. I am one guy. None of the massively well-funded news agency’s caught the problem.

So, when I am sleeping at night, who else is watching this program to be sure veterans are protected?

Can we simply say, like Harley, that veteran data is “safe” and put the issue to bed when enticing veterans to participate? Can a veteran give informed consent to participate in the program without an accurate communication about the risk?

Created In 2011, Not “New”

Beyond that, agency public affairs agents are still promoting the project as “new” even though it was founded in 2011.

Would you call a car made in 2011 a “new” car?

The Million Veteran Program is the largest genomic database in the world with over 500,000 volunteers as of August 1, 2016.

The program was created out of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative. Researchers in the private sector use the data to create new inventions and other breakthroughs to earn billions without a clear channel for contributing toward the cost of building or maintaining the database.

RELATED: VA Employees Indicted For Bribery In Medical Device Sale Scheme

According to VA, Research using MVP data is already underway, studying a range of medical issues like mental illness and heart and kidney diseases. The program also has rich data on various health conditions that are common in Veterans. Approximately 62 percent of MVP enrollees report a current or past diagnosis of high blood pressure and about a third report tinnitus. Also, nearly a third or 32 percent of Veterans present with a history or current diagnosis of cancer.

“We believe MVP will accelerate our understanding of disease detection, progression, prevention and treatment by combining this rich clinical, environmental and genomic data,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, the then VA Under Secretary for Health.

“VA has a deep history of innovation and research. MVP will allow the nation’s top researchers to perform the most cutting-edge science to treat some of the nation’s most troubling diseases.”

Why Not Be Honest?

Every month, I see a few articles promoting the Million Veteran Program as a “new” program seeking new volunteers. I am not sure if the publications are actually published under the guise of news while being paid placements or public service announcements.

At the end of the day, I am sure the medical industry stands to benefit substantially from programs like VA MVP, but they should be honest in how the message and risks are conveyed to the public.

RELATED: Facebook Says It Stopped ‘Top Secret’ Plan To Datamine Medical Records, Hashing To De-Anonymize Data

I wrote extensively last month about the risk of sharing genomic data where VA asserts such data is anonymized under weak HIPAA rules, because that same data can be easily de-anonymized using private genomic databases, a reality since at least 2012.

With advances in artificial intelligence, privacy may be a thing of the past even with your own health records if you volunteer for these programs.

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33 Comments

  1. Wonder how ALL those “volunteers” are gonna feel when ALL their “PRIVATE INFORMATION” isn’t “PRIVATE” anymore!

    With decades of screwing over veterans, why would anyone believe that agency today?
    #fucktheva
    #fucktheafge
    Shut the VA down now! Before it can kill more veterans!

  2. “Shulkin reassured the public that the data would be anonymized under HIPAA but such private information protection rules have long been known to be inadequate in today’s era of artificial intelligence.”

    Now that should assuage all fears, NOT!

  3. Quick morning thoughts before my one man protest against Union Hospital and their staff who have played the same games the VA did. Demoncrat Party politics, retaliation, networks of vast Indiana corruption and covering-up, I don’t care.

    None of our stuff is private any longer and hasn’t been for years. There are too many activist, staff workers everywhere, and anti-Americans out there that have access to our files. Since everything seems to be about politics and ruining anyone’s lives who dare mention wrong doing or corruption.

    As easy as it is to get DNA who can claim or trust they aren’t doing or have done it already. Who knows?

    2012. Seems about correct. I remember blood test at the VA then being handed a few pages of their report with a couple of pages missing. I asked about the missing pages. Oh don’t worry about it’s just for the doctors or inner office use. Now this about the time to the country going wild after the VA did on blood testing for dope and before the VA claims they started doing it. While being told and asked if I had HIV or AIDS since they claimed legally they could not test for that and would violate my privacy rights. But they could check and file everything about me. More (?). Turns out the missing pages were the test for dope, in part. They had already been testing me for drugs use which came up clean anyway for years so no big deal. Other items, codes, left un-explained or zoomed past. But they could tell me that I didn’t have sex for the past few days. With a chuckle. (?) I’ll be damned, I didn’t know they had ways of checking for enzymes or something that could tell if I had ejaculated or not.

    Last new pain clinic orientation we were told the VA could predict we’d all be criminals in the future, if not now. Especially if we are taking pain meds. So they have to protect us from our selves. So more invasive and controlling contracts must be signed to continue on with their brand of health care and to be forced to take anti-deps for pain. I asked at one point when fed-up how they think they can predict the future of every individual or group. Oh, by our studies and research, the best in the land… blah blah. By DNA or algorithms?

  4. Seems the VA’s Black Hole requires fre$h meat for the flow of $$$$$$$$$$$ to continue at a quicker pace.

    Starting another war would also guarantee fre$h meathead volunteers for the VA Black Hole. Consent or not, I believe the VA is using everyone’s data, selling, reselling…regardless of consent. We are dealing with known assholes that lie at the blink of an eye with a saccharine bile smile. “Thanks for your service, all for the Vets…”—(Bull$hit)

    Here’s an idea:
    How about utilizing all the AFGE Engorged Purple Team’s DNA for a database of known assholes on planet earth?
    Won’t work? Why?
    An Engorged Purple Team AFGE Member’s saturated fat content makes them more useful for strength-testing of industrial furniture or lubricating large gears on industrial cranes.

  5. Hey, namnibor, wanna talk more about that “black hole” – this just out from; “military.com”!

    Titled:
    “Lawmakers Still Hunting for $55B for Expanded VA Health Care Options”

    Dated; 22 May 2018
    By: “Richard Sisk”

    “Senate leaders said Tuesday that funding for the proposed $55 billion bill to expand private health care options at the Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to be identified but expressed confidence that the money will be found.”

    “Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he will meet with Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on funding sources.”

    “They’re going to be provided,” Isakson said of funds needed for the VA Mission Act over the next five years.”

    “Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and ranking member of Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “I don’t care how we pay for it. It needs to be paid for. We can work through this.”

    “Tester and Isakson spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference with representatives of major veterans service organizations (VSO’s) in support of the VA Mission Act, which passed in the House last week by a vote of 347-70.”

    “Following the news conference, the Senate voted to limit debate on the bill. Isakson said he expects Senate passage, possibly on Wednesday, in an effort to get the legislation to President Donald Trump by Memorial Day for signing.”

    “The bill would replace the current Veterans Choice Program for private and community health care for veterans, which is due to run out of funding by the end of May, according to acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.”

    “Under the VA Mission Act, funding of $5.2 billion would be provided to extend the Choice program for one year while enacting reforms to improve care.”

    “Isakson called the VA Mission Act the “last piece of a great mosaic to reform veterans benefits for our veterans.”

    “The bill would “do away with the 40-mile rule and the 30-day rule” under Choice, in which private care is limited to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who must wait more than 30 days for an appointment, Isakson said.”

    “However, the VA would remain the “gatekeeper” in approving private-care options in the best interests of the veteran, he said.”
    (My note: This means – veterans will still NOT be able to use the “CHOICE PROGRAM!)

    “Isakson also noted the difficulty in reaching bipartisan consensus on the bill amid the ongoing turmoil at the Department of Veterans Affairs over the search for a permanent secretary and the struggle to fill thousands of health care vacancies at the VA.”

    “There were a few days last month when I didn’t think we were going to make it” on the VA Mission Act, he said.”

    “Tester cited the urgency to pass the bill. “The Choice program has been a wreck, OK? Every veteran up here will tell you that,” he said.”

    “The Choice program was enacted in 2014 following wait times scandals at the VA, and “the program was implemented quickly. It’s had a lot of hiccups,” Tester said.”
    (My note: “hiccups”? NO, where’d all the money go?)

    “In rural states such as Montana, “you can’t always have a VA clinic in your hometown,” he said, “but veterans shouldn’t have to drive a couple of hours, two hours, to the nearest clinic or wait months for an appointment. That’s why we need private health care to fill in the gaps when the VA cannot provide those services.”
    (My note; Small clinics don’t offer anything except PCP visit, Mental Health visit and Blood Work visit! These small VHA’s need to be shut down! They’re a waste of taxpayers monies!)

    “About one-third of the nine million veterans served annually by the VA currently receive private care, and neither Isakson nor Tester had an estimate on how that percentage might increase under the VA Mission Act.”
    (My note; IF ALL the small VHA’s were shut down, then veterans would be eligible for the CHOICE PROGRAM! Yet, we ALL know how that works!
    The VA needs shut down and our healthcare system – “PRIVATIZED!”)

    “At the Senate news conference, Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, said the Choice program is unwieldy and has led to confusion on eligibility and the payment of bills for private care.”
    (My note; “Confusion?” There’s no confusion from a majority of veterans. It’s the VA employees who refuse to let vets use CHOICE! Then CHOICE refuses to pay their bills!)

    “Right now, there are seven different programs that the VA operates in order to administer community care — that’s seven different points of entry, seven different payment types, seven different ways for doctors to get paid,” he said.”

    “And it’s confusing to veterans, it’s confusing to providers, and it’s confusing to the VA,” Celli said. “Now it’s time for Congress to fix that and put it all under one umbrella so that there’s one single point of entry, there’s one way for providers to bill the VA, there’s one eligibility standard for veterans so that they can get the care they need.”

    “The VSO’s had initially expressed fears that expanding private care would lead to the “privatization” of the VA, but Carlos Fuentes, national legislative services director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA Mission Act “has the fingerprints of veterans who rely on the VA all over it.”

    “The VA “can’t be everything to everyone,” he said, but the proposed bill “has the best interests of veterans at its core. While the bill fixes the Choice program, it also includes more than $10 billion worth of improvements to how VA doctors provide health care.”

    “This includes increases to loan repayment amounts, authority to practice telemedicine across state lines, and better recruitment and retention authorities to address VA’s workforce vacancies. Overall, it strikes a balance between improving VA capacity and relying on the private sector,” Fuentes said.”

    “Garry Augustine, executive director of the Washington headquarters of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), said the VA Mission Act also includes removal of restrictions on family caregivers assistance, which would no longer be limited to disabled post-9/11 veterans.”

    “Extending caregivers assistance to disabled veterans of all eras is “the right thing to do” and would also limit costs by allowing disabled vets to remain at home, rather than be hospitalized, Augustine said. He added that home care averages less than $30,000 annually, while hospital care would amount to about $400,000 a year.”

    “In a statement, DAV National Commander Delphine Metcalf-Foster said the VA Mission Act “marks a major milestone in attaining greater fairness for seriously injured veterans of all eras who need and rely on family caregivers.”

    “This groundbreaking legislation will not only support America’s unsung heroes, but also make a number of reforms and improvements to expand veterans’ access and strengthen the VA health care system,” Metcalf-Foster said.”

    ——————————————————————-
    *******************************************
    (“My note’s” are added after a few paragraphs. They are my opinions and thoughts over this FUBAR brought about by those in charge (Congress) NOT understanding what their “Bill’s” have caused veterans – Financially, Emotionally and Physically – due to their inability/refusal to “SHUT DOWN THE VA!” AND “PRIVATIZE OUR HEALTHCARE!”

  6. Ahhh back from protest. Made one supervisor contact who came out asking questions about why my protest. She got informed and my info and told to see Ben’s site and my FB page. One small step forward. Chuckle.

    Trying to follow but my computer ‘handshaking’ with Ben’s site is like others… slow or not happening. Or, “Site can’t be found.”

    Oh life is good in the new fascist corrupt censored states of ‘merika.’

  7. Someone needs to put together a compilation of ALL Veterans, ones that are having major problems with the VA, especially those Veterans using VA’s healthcare.

    To me, life is priority one, you can talk all this other perimeterized VA BS, and it’s not relieving the pain and suffering that many Vets go through when dealing with the VA. Many are worse off health-wise than myself.

    If the is to ever be personable to the needs of the 21st Century Veteran, VA is going to have to do it by one Vet at a time. IMO, I ain’t seeing it, yet. Is it on its way? What’s the plan? Vision? Final goal?

  8. California has been collecting newborn blood samples since 1983 & storing the blood indefinitely in a state-run bio-bank. The state has so many ‘samples’ they don’t even know how many they have but it is larger than the Veteran DNA program plus the state also sells/loans the blood for research. For those like Ben who just had a new baby here is an interactive map of States with the list of conditions your state screens for. “https://www.babysfirsttest.org/newborn-screening/states”

  9. Rise and Shine Veterans how many Veterans like electronic message you email your Senators and Representative.

  10. I’m a diabetic and I’m treated at the Atlanta VA and before at Ann Arbor VA, never in a civilian clinic or DRs office. So how do I get a lot of phone calls from diabetic supply companies? Our information has always been for sale and it only takes one dishonest employee to start this.

    • I get my diabetes supplies from my civilian insurance but I do get one of my meds from the VA. Haven’t gotten any correspondence yet…

  11. When I signed up I was told the same thing, completely anonymous. Then an additional comment popped up…If there are questions about your surveys, they may go back and check your medical file to see if you were infact diagnosed. Your surveys do not have your name on them, only a number….which identifies you. I recieved another survey in the mail…don’t like the way it is worded. I am going to opt out.

  12. Consent and Voluntary my ass. Using Statements like ““new” DNA database seeking veterans to consent”, “that is a “voluntary research program”. Total Fricken Bullshit!!

    My recent brush with the VA and law enforcement included my giving them a DNA Sample and them telling me I was required to sign a Consent Form that was unreadable. When I asked why I was being told I had to sign the consent form I was told that it was to share my medical records with other providers which includes the VA. This is while I was being booked into jail. I did not sign the consent form but was forced to allow the jail to pull my DNA.

    Of course, the way things went down were totally illegal and a total violation of my civil rights. First, I was arrested at my home in Minnesota after posting a comment on this site that included a statement of additional comments I would be following up with. There was a knock on my door and I was arrested on a fugitive from justice charge. Even though I have lived in my home for the last 12 years they claimed I ran to evade justice on a charge in Wisconsin that had been filed, but not pursued, in May of 2017.

    After a night in Jail, I was brought to court and waived extradition to address the charges in Wisconsin. That evening I was extradited to Wisconsin and booked into the county Jail there. That is when they took my DNA without my consent and tried to force me to sign a medical release, which I refused to do. I asked why and was told it was so law enforcement could share my DNA and also obtain my medical records from any medical providers.

    Following my second night in Jail I was brought to a video Tele-Court system where my case was presented to the court commissioner. The Assistant District Attorney was able to provide a long list of reasons she felt a High Cash bail was required in my case. The public Defender representing me stated that the “case against me was weak at best”. Also, he knew me and that I had family living in the City and asked me if they still lived there. The ADA then started claiming that not only was I a transient but also my whole family was nothing but transients.

    The court commissioner then asked the ADA if she wanted to attach any special conditions to my bail. As the ADA started to make a statement I interrupted and said it was a moot point and stated two words that let the ADA and the court know that I knew there was no circumstantial or physical evidence that a crime had ever been committed and that there were no witnesses or evidence tying me to the imaginary crime. The ADA lost her cool and screamed that my statement had not been confirmed. In a manner that let everyone in the court know that in fact she knew I was telling the truth. Also, it was a fact that she should have confirmed before ever bringing charges against me.

    I sat there for more than a minute and the court was totally silent. No one speaking and the ADA just looking down at the desk in front of her while the court commissioner just sat looking at the ADA. It seemed to go on for minutes and I started worrying that I might have broken the court.

    I felt like I had to say something to get it going again. So, I started off with the terms the ADA used to describe me to the court. Saying “Flight risk”, “Transient” and “No Connection to the Community”. Then I stated “maybe that is why the city named a street after me over 40 years ago. My full name is still on the street signs, all because I am a Transient.”

    After another minute or so the ADA then spoke up in a very quiet and polite tone of voice and said I have a very limited criminal background and that I had never missed a court appearance. My criminal background included a traffic ticket and a ticket for a city ordinance violation. Both from nearly 20 years ago.

    The court commissioner then set a signature bond so that I could be released from jail on my signature. My public defender told me to call his office and set up and appointment which I did and set up an appointment for the following Monday. Also, the commissioner set my next court day for the following Wednesday.

    But Monday rolled around and while I was cleaning up to drive to over for the appointment with the Public Defender. He had called and left a message on my machine to tell me that he had canceled my appointment because he had verified my statement via the web and had sent a copy of the verification to the District Attorney via email. The District Attorney then called him and told him he was dropping all charges. Latter I checked the online court records and it had taken less than an hour and a half for the District Attorney to file a motion to dismiss the charges and for the Judge to sign the order to dismiss them.

    I have purposefully included a lot of information above about how my DNA was taken by force and what happened during an arrest for a bogus criminal charge for a crime that never occurred. I’ll explain more in the following post. But I do have to do some running around today and will finish the rest latter today. It is a very truly scary problem that all Veterans who speak out are facing.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. The system is broken, there was no due process in your case although in the end the charges were dismissed. Still the bigger problem is that your DNA was illegally taken. I stopped commenting on this blog for personal reasons, but I happen to follow your posts and comments because they are very informative. Thank you for helping us veteran with your information and facts. You are way smarter than they are, they know it, good luck to you. I will continue to keep an eye on this story you have told the blog——all the best Seymore. Remember the entire veteran community needs vets like you to keep the VA and other elements in check with your skills and knowledge.

  13. Meanwhile, Pig Pharma is chomping at the carrion dead guinea piglets so they can use a very large data base to run massive DNA models that will help them speed new products to market for which they can gouge the fuck out of the American sheeple. I can certainly see where a massive data base unhindered by confidentiality and with participants known to have been poisoned by vaccines, AO, burn pits, depleted uranium etc would be a very useful tool in research. Sadly, the VA will cough it up for free, and get nothing in return. And, of course, neither will the veterans.

  14. In Benjamin’s “Bad VA Art” today, that DNA looks to be made of the very pearls you’re not supposed to be throwing at swine…

  15. Off-Topic:

    There happens to be a very real ever-growing open sinkhole on the Whitehouse lawn as of late and I simply ask if this could be the swamp sucking it’s own asses?

    • Yaa – I was thinking along the same lines. Something about all the rats tunneling in and out of the White House undermining any sense of stability. Pining for the good old days of GW Bush or Obama – that’s some pretty sick shit.

  16. “It’s not you. Why, no matter what I do for him/her, that it’s not good enough, or respected, and their not thankful? It’s not you.”

  17. “Peanuts.” Charlie’s (?) teacher’s voice …. “wah wah wah wah ” Blah blah.

    More lip-service, more reports, same old stuff…. generation after generation. While the retribution, attacks, suffering, suicides, dying continues.

    “https://federalnewsradio.com/veterans-affairs/2018/05/breakdown-of-systems-and-leadership-provokes-lawmakers-to-examine-structure-of-veterans-health-networks/”

  18. Since POTUS Trump was elected, another good thing has happened, cuddling is up. Yep, come on in, and get a long, warm hug.

      • Fuck your pension, there keeping it, now go give the fat tuna beast a hug. Stop your complaining you winy ass Veteran. Suck it up, we make everyone do it. lol Only joking.

    • “GUEST COMMENTARY: Social Security scandal bigger than VA …”

      “https://www.nwitimes.com/opinion/columnists/guest-commentary/guest-commentary-social-security-scandal-bigger-than-va/article_68ea8064-333f-517c-99b3-a742ccf2fec0.html”

      • honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m on SSDI and I received it relatively quickly. I did the initial phone interview and was denied. I got a local attorney after I received the denial letter which is what they will all tell you. At the next stage I was approved, no ALJ, no hearing. As for the pressure to issue denials well it could be because of this “https://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/06/10/report-social-security-judges-rubber-stamp-claims.html”

  19. This program is just too easy for the VA to cheat on. They take blood samples and urine samples all the time. How does the Veteran know that they did not barcode a sample and slip it into Database as volunteer. If war has taught the veteran anything it should have taught them, Do not volunteer for anything for the government. My husband is 100% service connected Vietnam veteran. They could ask him about this and he would say yes never knowing what they were talking about. At least with a spit sample you would have an idea what you were doing. This is Bull Hockey!

  20. Had I known that they were going to let companies use our info for their own purposes and their profit, I never would have donated my blood and information. All they have to do is hack the mailing list for all those who get mail from the MMP and they have our names. Not that hard with the type of data mining they are using nowadays. It is shameful and the VA should get money for them using it that can be returned to us in terms of our full benefits and correct adjudications. It’s always about the money. Damn, just when you thought it was a good idea, it turns to crap. Wonder if I can get my blood and info back and be deleted out of the program? Maybe we should demand it and see what they say…Shameful, just shameful

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