Veterans say the VA is putting them at risk

Posted at 11:34 PM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 23:35:26-05

A stint in the Navy and two years with the Marines in Libya left Sammie Rivera with service-connected disabilities. He recently ordered his medical records to file his claim.

But when the VA envelope arrived in the mail, Rivera found much more than his own medical papers. The package contained around 20 pages of personal information belonging to a retired Marine that Rivera had never met.

The papers contained the Social Security number on numerous pages and details of multiple medical conditions. I tracked down the man listed on the documents, Retired SFC Robert Wooster Sr. who lives in Texas.

Wooster, who served 19 years in the Army including the Special Forces and three tours of the Persian Gulf, said it scared him that the VA sent out his information in error.

Over the last several days, I have repeatedly asked the regional VA benefits office in St. Petersburg to explain how this happened. We wanted to know what the agency is doing to ensure it does not happen again, and what protection will be offered to these two veterans. They refused multiple requests for an interview.

The VA released this statement:

“Privacy-related events ... can include mis-mailings ... whenever these circumstances arise ... an assessment of the risk is conducted and, if appropriate, notification and provision of credit monitoring is offered to the individual whose information is involved.”

The VA touts privacy training required by all employees, but these two veterans refuse to believe the agency has a handle on violations.

Pro Publica's recent report documents more than 10,000 privacy breaches at the VA since 2011. They include well over 600 cases right here in the Bay Area.

There have been 72 cases at James A. Haley, 112 cases at Bay Pines, 70 breaches at the St. Pete regional benefits office and another 370 report at the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network in St. Pete.