Veterans Disability Info Blog

Veterans Affairs Gets Away with Privacy Breaches the Private Sector Would Not

As a veteran’s disability attorney I am always concerned about VA acting outside the scope of the law.  It is a routine matter that we deal with in our veteran’s disability law firm where the VA does not comply with the Freedom of Information Act. 

Accordingly, I was not surprised to see the story recently indicating that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has racked up more than 10,000 privacy breaches since 2011.  The article noted that such a quantity of privacy breaches makes the VA the nation’s most prolific violator of personal privacy.  What’s disturbing, however, is that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was not enforced against the VA to impose disciplinary sanctions for their privacy breaches.

These privacy breaches ranged from VA employees accidently mailing the wrong medical records to a different person or some VA employees voyeuristically spying on patients’ medical records.  One instance noted in the article was of an employee at the VA engaging in over 61 unauthorized intrusions into a particular patient’s medical records.  Outrageously, this VA employee disseminated the information from the patient’s file on Facebook and violated this patient’s privacy further by discussing this confidential information with her social media friends.  It appears that this VA employee kept her job even after this breach of privacy came to light.  Another situation involved a VA employee whose ex-husband was a veteran. This VA employee accessed her ex-husband’s medical records over 260 times without permission which is a blatant privacy violation.

Other examples of privacy breaches involve situations where confidential information was posted on Facebook. One of the most outrageous examples is of a VA employee who posted a picture on Facebook of an ailing veteran’s exposed buttocks.  As a veteran’s disability attorney who spends his entire professional life trying to assist veterans and maintain privacy concerning their medical concerns, I am outraged to hear of these violations taking place within the VA.

In many cases these veterans are dealing with very personal issues involving psychiatric care and other medical concerns that they do not want the public to know about.  So, for VA employees to intentionally violate patient privacy in this manner shocks the conscious.  I think Congress needs to step in and take serious action to sanction the VA and the employees who engage in such outrageous privacy breaches.  I know that as a veteran’s benefits attorney, I certainly would not stand for any employees in my office breaching client privacy in the manner that is described at the VA.  There is absolutely no excuse for such unprofessional and illegal behavior.

I will be watching to see that the federal agencies and departments charged with enforcing the privacy laws will take swift and decisive action to locate these privacy violators and terminate those employees who have engaged in this illegal conduct. 

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