Veterans Affairs Privacy Violations On The Rise

Veterans Affairs Privacy

Benjamin KrauseThe Star Tribune published a report about an epic increase in privacy violations by Department of Veterans Affairs including sending vets’ records to the wrong place.

Reporter Mark Brunswick gave me a call a couple weeks ago to discuss the problem of privacy violations following exposure of a growing scandal first exposed by ProPublic. The news agency built a database to tally privacy violations nationwide.


In his report, Brunswick decided to cover my own experience with VA carelessly sending my full Vocational Rehabilitation file to my old apartment address. En route, Fed Ex did the equivalent of Googling me to find my new address and decided to deliver the records (over 1,000 pages) to a place I lived at two years before rather than returning them to VA.

This resulted in me not receiving the files. When I informed VA of their mistake, they told me I would need to recover the records on my own by calling the police. When I called the police, they looked quite puzzled and left.

In the end, VA did nothing other than offer to provide one year of identity theft protection. Wooptie doo, right?

Brunswick included the story alongside his analysis of the numbers he found:

— “In 2013, one veteran opened his mail to discover a picture of the inside of another veteran’s colon, taken during the veteran’s colonoscopy at the St. Cloud VA. A nurse did not clear the camera to set up for the next patient and when the system printed the photos it included the veteran’s name, birth date, Social Security number and date of the procedure, along with the provider’s name.

— “In 2014, a former VA supervisor in Minneapolis called a retired VA employee and claimed she knew about his health problems from another VA supervisor.

— “In 2011, an employee of the Minneapolis VA snooped in the chart of a vet who had been in the news, even though it wasn’t part of the employee’s official duties. The worker admitted looking in the chart out of curiosity and was written up for disciplinary action. The following year, a research contract worker accessed the chart of another high-profile patient who was in the news.

— “In another 2011 case in Minneapolis, clerks in a clinic were overheard by a patient and his daughter discussing a veteran enrolled at the clinic who had been identified in the local news media after being charged with a crime.”


VA claims the increase in reported instances is the result of better reporting systems. However, I suspect the involvement of contractors and lack of accountability when records are misplaced may be also contribute to the spike in privacy violations.

The agency is using government contractors like UPS and Fed Ex rather than using USPS. One problem with UPS is that it cannot deliver to PO Boxes. Fed Ex apparently uses a Googling feature that may result in the records being delivered to the wrong address. When a problem occurs, you cannot avail yourself to the Postmaster General for help. Here is my take on that via Brunswick’s article:

“Krause is also an attorney who often represents veterans in cases against the VA and has been a frequent critic of it in his blog, Krause says the use of third-party contractors appears to contribute to confusion, as does a system, much of it paper-generated, that is not coordinated or automatically updated. A failure to hold workers accountable also likely adds to problems, he said.

“While HIPAA violations can carry economic penalties, it’s virtually impossible to sue the VA over other privacy breaches because a prospective plaintiff would need to prove real economic damage, Krause said.

“’They don’t have the same kind of fear of God like some normal Joe Schmo, where they are held personally accountable,’ Krause said of the VA. ‘These individuals in the federal government are above the law, and it’s the taxpayer that has to foot the bill every time there is a mistake.’”

Ever experience something like this?

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  1. In my case, the Seattle` VARO sent my entire SOC to the American Legion rather than my DAV rep even though they had sent other correspondence to the DAV just weeks prior to that (and I had notified the VARO in writing just a few weeks prior that I had fired the A.L. as my VSO Rep and had withdrawn my power of attorney to them and that the VARO was not to share ANY information about me with the A.L). And the only way I found out about that was by monitoring my EBenefits account. If I had not caught it, the 90 days I had to file an appeal would have lapsed and I would have had my claim permanently denied. v Of course after I brought this to the attention of my Congresswoman, I got the letter of apology from the Director of the Seattle VARO along with the standard 1 year free enrolment in credit monitoring. But their having donle what they did violated the Federal Privacy Act as well as numerous Federal HIPAA Statutes both of which are federal crimes punishable by both prison time as well as some hefty fines. Does ANYONE think that they will ever have to suffer the consequences of their documentable CRIMINAL ACTS?

  2. I don`t Think I have anything to worry about as far as my medical records are concerned. Everyone has a copy. In an attempt to get my claim approved I sent everything I could get my hands on From the V.A. where I`ve been on the books sense 1972. To everyone in the Country. Freely voiding out or violating the HIPPA law, That we`re supposed to be protected by. I was so desperate I sent shit to anyone who would listen. I could`nt have done more by sending out Fliers!
    Yes, Incredibly Stupid, But When you`re Crippled, Sick & Broke, You may do desperate unreasonable things. You have to pay for help. I could`nt rob a bank in a Wheelchair, Tho, It`s never been tried that I can recall, And the odds you`ll fail are too great even for a fool desperate enough to try..
    My military Personnel File is Supposed to be Sealed & Stored in the National Archive. I had a Security Clearance. No I`m not claiming to be a secret agent, About half the Military did/does. “Secret” not the hot shot “Top Secret”. But, Sealed, Supposed to mean A federal judge has to order the release of any part of that file, Even to me. As I understand it. Also, I can only get a copy of a specific page or pages. Requested in writing, For a Fee of course And (only) things that have been screened & declassified. Sort of like it used to be in filing a Search Warrant & having a Judge sign it, Specifically searching for (What) Drugs, Weapons money etc. NOT ANYMORE They can sign their own warrants.
    Thanks to the The Great & Continuing undoing of our Privacy, The “Patriot act” What I view as a Victory to the enemy. As does the Enemy, But, Any law enforcement official from the Chief of Police of a one horse town like the one I live in. To America`s “top cop” the Director of the F.B.I. ANY Honcho, City, County, State or Federal, Can use a number to simply pull it up, And go thru every single page. (Maybe) Even the ones marked as Classified and/or the ones I don`t even know about. Every mission, Every patrol. And What “I” Did on one or all. Any Decorations, Badges, Unit Citations Everything From an Inductee`s first head pealing to E.T.S.
    Thanks to the Patriot Act, There is NO SUCH THING AS PRIVACY. Not anymore, Not in America. OUR Government has killed any Rights to Privacy. 9-11 will cost us forever. Thank you Geo. W Bush, And the guy in there now ain`t done yet either. He wants your weapon(s). PTSD, Not a chance, You`ll make the (No Gun) list.
    I could have saved you the time with my one finger typing by simply putting the famous Quote from old Ben Franklin.
    “Those willing to sacrifice Liberty, For a little Security, Deserve Neither, And will Lose Both”
    So Friends, If I play cards with my small town Chief of Police, If I asked him, maybe, I could get access to my sealed military File. He probably already has or he would`nt play cards with me. Everybody around the table is armed. I`d want to know who I`m setting across from If I were the Chief With the High Stakes involved. I (May) have passed the exam, Or he could be gathering Intel. Cause We still play cards. Nickel Dime & Quarter.

  3. OT, but I got quite a shock today. I returned a call to the VA about a consult. This was requested just a week and a half ago. She said I was authorized for the Choice First program since the VA does not have a local neurosurgeon. She said I could call the HealthNet contractor if I wanted to expedite it and request a specific provider. Since I have never received a Choice card, I asked about that, and was told HealthNet would send one when I called. I was told the Choice First program was new, and that everyone qualified for it. She said the old Choice program was still available, but the 40 mile rule still applied. She sounded as if she was ready to hear an earful once she mentioned the Choice program.
    I figured I would call HealthNet and just see how the response was. I called, and was on hold for about 15 minutes. Considering I have never given HealthNet any of my information, it took her about 2 minutes to not only verify who I was, but to also pull up the request from the VA. The local private hospital has a very good Neuro clinic and I had already checked that they accepted the Choice program, so I requested to be seen by them. The HealthNet lady said they would do that, and said it would take 5 days to process the request. She said she would send a Choice card to me which would take 5-10 days to process. She finally said I should call back in 5 days for the authorization number. I guess I will see how this works, but will request the VA authorizations and HealthNet authorizations be faxed to me.
    Funny thing is, I requested 2 consults during the same primary care appointment. The first is for this Choice appointment because they don’t have a neurosurgeon. The other consult was for my service connected knee. That knee appointment was set for the VA. On February 22. Although that is beyond 30 days, Choice was never mentioned.

    1. Interesting. So, the VA has already changed the damn name and parameters of the ‘Choice program” to now…”Choice First”? I wonder if the VA will as for Billion$ for both programs at same time and it’s a case of seeing what an endless cookie jar of cash is like?
      Hope it works out for you. Definitely let us know your progress as you navigate the labyrinth. LOL!

      1. Actually Nam, when I called, it was made very clear that the old Choice program is still available, and the new Choice First program is a different program. First rule of government contracting is to create a new name and charge twice as much.
        I was told the Choice program 40 mile rule and 30 day rule still applied, but the new Choice First program everyone qualified for. I get the impression the Choice First program is just CHAMPVA by another name…costing more because it’s a new contractor program.
        The biggest impression I got was that someone must have made clear to HealthNet that their incompetence will no longer be tolerated. The lady was very apologetic for even a minimal wait, and was very professional in what she was saying.
        …but then, I had to select option 2 for the Choice First program, so maybe the incompetent operators are in the old program.

      1. I just received my third bill from the hospital that did my MRI in July 2015. I was assured each time I questioned why I was receiving a bill when this was authorized. I have been told each time that it is being taken care of and I should not worry about getting billed. I am also told each time that the outside provider is most likely sending this to the wrong place and they will contact them to make sure it gets sent to the correct place. I personally gave the outside provider the correct place to send this which was given to me by the Indy VAMC on the first bill I received.
        I somehow get the feeling that this will be drug out and I will end up with having to pay for this or it will go into collections and/or will hurt my credit. If the VAMC knows that the outside provider will eventually send this to collections, the veteran will most likely pay for this to save their credit. Then the veteran will have to fight the VAMC system to try and get repaid which, of course, will most likely never happen. I get the felling that this is getting to the point that the outside provider will start pushing it to go to collections soon if nothing is done.
        I received my Choice card the day after the procedure was done and I wonder if this was done so that the outside provider did not have anything to put in for the “insurance number” to connect me to the choice program so it would get paid. I did give the provider the number the day after I received it for them to put into their system.

      2. The way VA treats veterans by punishing veterans who speak out.when you used the choise program.

        The VA is probably punishing you for wanting to be treated on the outside.

        I put nothing passed them.what better way to get back at the veterans and piss off a provider to the point they will not accept VA veterans.

        If the VA can’t use the disruptive committee to punish veterans.they are doing so by not paying the private doctor.

        Veterans are sent letters to say the veterans qualified for treatment outside the VA.but when you call.the employees double talk and the veterans never get their treatment on the outside.

        They state we will call you back and they never do and they can keep lieing that veterans love the VA so much they don’t want to be treated on the outside.

        How many other veterans are in the same boat as you.

        If a single veteran complains about anything they are blown off and given excuses and if the veterans continue to complain.they will be reported as being disruptive and will be punisheharminguey can do nothing about it.

        Again veterans will never get justice.because veterans have no way to defend themselves against this illegal committee.

        We have a judiciary system and the VA has no business acting as if they are the judiciary section of our government.

        VA needs to be held accountable for harming veterans using this committee.

        This committee uses hearsay as written reports are required.

        This means every veteran that goes to the VA and has a bad day due to their disability.can and will be reported as being disruptive if they do speak out about anything.

  4. From what I read of the Privacy violations at my VA listed in the database at ProPublica, most of the violations looked like they had no choice but to report it because they sent the records to an outside entity, or to the wrong veteran. I don’t recall a single violation reported where the employee was accessing records without authorization.
    Have I had my own privacy violated? Yes. When the VA gave my personal information to their contractor so the contractor could find my insurance information and bill them for service connected surgery. The VA claimed I signed a consent form for them to do so, so I requested a copy through FOIA. I have a letter in which the FOIA officer claims they couldn’t find it. They couldn’t find it because they didn’t want to find it because it would prove I never signed it giving them consent.

  5. I think the VA is an easy target, for so many reasons. If the departments had a Vet and no chance at a bonus then after a long period of time it may change its ways. So for now you have a money hungry, back stabbing no one gives a sh$t about the vets and is only about themselves VA. It all starts with USAJOBS. We get out and want to work, you could put a vet in an office in the VA next a civilian to ask the question “hey is this a good idea or bad idea”? They make very simple things way to complicated and then when it fails try to blame each other or say the Vet cant handle that treatment. So I have learned if you don’t have a degree at the VA get one and then you can tell co-workers to pound sand and get away with just use your PTSD claim…

  6. Haven’t had it happen yet, BUT the Patient Advocate at the PHX VA, denied he ever spoke to my husband or myself…NO Records. We would visit the PA every mo at his office, and also phone him monthly.
    This was over the matter involving a VA letter stating my spouse needed his gallbladder removed, according to their X-RAY. His GB was removed years earlier, w/ a (14″) scar across his abdomen.
    My spouse was later diagnosed w/ pneumonia, at another hospital and was admitted. This same PA later told me that if I went to visit my spouse at other hospital, I would be arrested, and my spouse would lose his VA service-connected pension. His rating was 100% for almost (30) yrs, we were married for (20) .
    Imagine this bum still has his job @ the PHX VA, and my spouse is dead and gone…and they bitch about delayed appointments for treatment and care…

    When the hell are they going to uncover the Dead Vets killed at the PHX VA, the one’s that got the appointments and died!

  7. I had to give up my husband’s 2015 HIPAA suit where they sent us 7 other Vets records, and who knows what happened to many of our records, because I couldn’t find the Hawaii duty to support the FTCA suit (combining yesterday’s AND today’s problems). We got the year of credit monitoring, period.

  8. It’s not right on point, but I had something happen along these lines just last week. I keep a box at my local UPS Store for one reason. I get a large number of medications delivered every month, and I want them to go somewhere where they are secure.

    I was gone last week, and when I got home my wife told me that she had had to sign for my narcotic painkillers. Later that day, I went to check my mail and found several other packages, containing my other meds, piled on my doorstep.

    I contacted the pharmacy at the local VA to get some answers. What I found out is that a clerk in the travel office had changed my address from my box to my physical address when I filed a claim for travel to a non-VA care appointment last month. I have my home address listed for correspondence from the VBA.

    The biggie, though, was the data breach in eBenefits that happened a couple of years ago. I had just signed in, and I was suddenly looking at another veteran’s information. I can only assume that another veteran could have also been looking at mine.

  9. How about record flags. Category 2 (high risk for suicide) no longer exist. 2 flags were only local. Now they are Catagory 1 flags that means the flag goes nation wide. That means anyone with a computer and access to medical records

    1. To continue, a high risk for suicide flag will not be removed until you state you have no auicidal ideation. And the flags are never removed, just not active. Ant flag you get stays on ur record. I have researched what I am saying. So I was getting help until they did this flag. Now I have seen no one in five months to protect my privacy. Any one else got this. You have to ask or you won’t know.

      1. Bonnie.the disruptive committee is illegal.they can’t or don’t even know how to define disruptive behavior.

        They punished me and the employee accusing me.did not have to provide any proof of the disruptive behavior.

        Veterans are being accused.tried and punished without any way to defend themselves.this goes against all of our civil and constitutional rights.

        That’s why America has a judicial system. If this continues any government agency can punish anyone and state disruptive behavior and punish that person without having their constitutional and civil rights taken away.

        The VA on my opinion is breaking the punishing veterans and not giving those veterans due process.

        How can a government agency threaten veterans with arrest.federal charges and jail and not have to provide proof of the wrongdoings or written evidence.especially when the disruptive behavior.was to have happened at least twice a month.

        Employees are being authorized authority to punish veterans by just saying the veteran was disruptive.something is very wrong with this process.

        Nazi state.send all veterans to the gas one cares anyway.

      2. 100% service connected been through it. Just left the V.A. got away from the whole mess. I just suffer in silence even though I need medical treatment. At lest they will not kill me, and I can spend the time with my son his wife and watch my grandchildren play and give me huge’s so the time I have left I won’t wast going to useless appointments to be blown off by a government ass whole. I know where I’am not wonted. And justice for all unless ur a Vet.

      3. James.if only we could find a lawyer to go to court and fight in my opinion.

        The disruptive committee is illegal they are not the court’s and they are acting just like a court and taking our right to a fair and impartial hearing.

        The VA has taken all of our civil and constitutional rights away.they are accuser.Prosecutor judge and jury.

        I think veterans could win this in a court of law. The VA has no business acting as a judiciary component of the justice department and have no business there.

        They are destroying people’s many veterans have taken their lives.because the VA has labeled them as criminals.

        I also do not want to go to the can anyone want to go to a place where you know they would tell lies about the veterans and threaten them with prison.

        In have a traumatic brain injury and suffer from severe migraines and would rather suffer.than take a chance on them telling more lies.

        Any employee can state a veteran was disruptive and the disruptive committee.will act on those allegations and will do so.without making the employee provide proof of time place and what disruptive behavior the veterans committed.

        Again this committee is illegal and denying American citizens of all their civil and constitutional rights.

        Ben do you know anyone who we can contact so we can take them to court.maybe our civil and constitutional rights are not worth fighting for.

      4. This committee can now identify you as Suisse and place the same flag on your record. Displaying it to every VA in the nation. Isn’t that protected medical information if you are suffering? And if it is not true, isn’t it defrimation of character ? Either way it is causing some of the suicides. Veterans are proud people as they should be. Where is the humane treatment the VA talks about?

      5. Humane treatment.they could care less. The department of veterans affairs has become very hostile towards veterans and will punish any veteran they want.

        What can the veterans do about it!


      6. I went to an outside hospital. Paid the bill with my own insurance. When I told them some of my issues were military related, they called the local VA who told this hospital my issues without my permission. I did not give this hospital permission and did not know about the communications until I checked my medical records. So even outside medical think the VA has rights and privileges above the law. So I would suggest you make sure your outside doctors know you do not want the VA involved. The hospital said they did it under continuity of care. That covered them.

      7. James, think of this. If you die, your grandchildren suffer, not the VA. They won’t even know you died. Don’t give them that power. Demand care or request outside provider. Put it in writing or it doesn’t exist.

        That is what too many veterans do. They go home and suffer in silence.

    1. The SOC for my case was sent to the Seattle American Legion rather than to my DAV rep even though they had been working with my DAV rep for several months before that time. The only way I found out about it was because I kept monitoring my EBenefits account to see where my case was and I discovered that a SOC had been issued. So, I contacted my DAV REP who found out where it had been sent. I was lucky or the 90 days for me to file a NOD would have passed and my case would have been permanently closed. Their having done what they did is in direct violation of multiple HIPAA State and federal laws as well as the Privacy Act. So, how do I get charges filed against the criminals who violated those laws? I got a letter from the Director of the Seattle VARO apologizing for them sending my file to an organization that I had not authorized them to send it to. So there is no way they can deny having done it

      1. You caught them and sorry is all your going to get after all it was just a misjudgment.

        It ok when they do something wrong and sorry is all they will do.the employee probably got a bonus.

        All veterans need to check their records often.employees write a lot of non truths. They like to give opinions and not stick with facts.

        Opinions are like assholes.everyone has one.stay with facts and leave their damb opinions out of our lives.

        Opinions are not science.

      2. John,
        was it Pritz Navaratnasingam, at the VARO in Seattle? I talked to him several times on my rating problem and I do not think he knows what the heck is going on. Every time I called, I had to repeat everything to him and every time I received a different answer as to what I should do. He could not understand why I wanted to change what they had put in for my disability. They had changed it to scars, post arthroscopic surgery when it should have been chondromalaicia patella. I did have the surgery in 1984 and had five quarter inch scars that are now just a memory. I told hem that if anyone checked me for what they had changed this to, they would think I was trying to get over on them as I had no scars and I would be screwed. He finally said he would change it. It got change but it still has the wording of the scars and surgery.
        James, the employee probably did not get the full bonus as this was caught before the time ran out so the VA did not get to completely screw over another vet.

  10. “Have I ever had this happen to me?”
    That’s a resounding “YES!”
    Was any “corrective action taken”, “NO!”
    Why? Because no one at VA would admit to the act!
    I’ve also seen this happen in the civilian sector. It happened to my wife. She received “paperwork” of another patient which caused an “overage billing”.
    The person and company which caused this, tried to cover it up. I wasn’t going to let it go.
    The problem I see is this. Whenever this type of “problem” occurs, it’s hard to get anyone to admit they caused it. If, and only IF, someone admits to this illegal act, nothing will change it. It will continue until employees are reprimanded and maybe even given time off without pay!
    Of course, then this might cause a backlog on sending out patients files.
    But, if it were double-checked before hand. This “problem” may be less likely to occur. Don’t think I’m trying to defend VA. I’m not!

    Here’s a fine example: How many out there “work with wood”?
    How many times do you measure the workpiece BEFORE cutting? A good woodworker WILL measure a minimum of two times!
    VA employees might want to take their time to “double-check their work” BEFORE sending it out!!!!

    1. @crazyelf and all-

      To add to “the problem”, the VA will never admit to error because they always have an easy out. What is one of the biggies? The VA contracts virtually everything out…everything, so it’s always easy to defer the inevitable slap on the wrist onto another.
      How about that VA contractor Ben had article on here recently in Georgia, I think and linked to a Florida VAMC/RO, and this contractor’s basement had hundreds of thousands of Veteran’s files, boxes, unopened mail, all these disheveled docs have ALL our Social Sec # and all other data because we are so deep in the system…and private contractor hacks have their eyes on all that data…perfect place for an identity thief to work and how is our HIPA rights not violated by this exposure?

      1. @namnibor and others
        Do you remember me putting on here a long time ago, an “outsourced contractor’s employees” being “caught with veterans files and committing identity theft!”
        It was on our local news here in Central Florida. And on Channel 13 Fox (national satellite) news out of Tampa.
        This goes to show everyone our damn records are not secure!
        Something like what’s happened with Hillary’s email server intel. We know, or highly suspect, Russia, China, Iran (being Russia’s partner) and other countries have her “classified intel”! Why is this highly suspect? One word – “Snowden!”

      2. I would pay to see an elephant take a huge dump on Snowden’s head and face…then start the torturing. Yes, I inferred elephant $h!t.

        I wonder if Obama would protect Snowden in a Bergdahl kind of way?

      3. Did I tell you I got a letter from the Personnel records center in Washington DC informing me that my military records used to do my security check was stolen along with thousands of other veterans. I was told that information included my full name, date of birth, social security number, past addresses, service information, jobs I have held, and my finger prints. Last year the IRS informed me that my identity was stolen and my refund was sent to the crook. The U.S. Record center has provided me theft protection for three years. I wrote a check for $2500.00 and no one questioned it. Anyone out there been notified? What a breech.

      4. ‘WE never stop thinking of ways…to hurt the American people’….President George Bush

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