Veterans Attorney Jim Fausone Criticizes Rising Privacy Breaches at VA Medical Facilities
Feb 17, 2016
Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) February 17, 2016 – A yearlong investigation has uncovered thousands of privacy violations at Department of Veterans Affairs-run medical facilities, clinics and benefit centers across the country.
According to ProPublica’s analysis of VA data, over 10,000 breaches have occurred since 2011. The majority of privacy incidents were inadvertent, such as medical records left in waiting rooms or documents sent to the wrong individuals. However, a number of errors involved employees intentionally snooping or stealing veterans’ personal information.
The highest number of privacy violations — at least 370 over the past five years — was recorded in the VA’s Sunshine Healthcare Network comprising Florida, Puerto Rico and southern Georgia.
“Reports of such a high volume of rampant privacy violations are deeply troubling. It is yet another area that has room for improvement on the VA’s part,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan veterans attorney. “Safeguarding the privacy of veterans should be of utmost importance. When such private material ends up in the wrong hands, it could put veterans in serious danger.”
ProPublica’s investigation revealed underlying systemic problems across the VA. Employees repeatedly accessed the medical records of patients not under their care, whether it was co-workers, suicidal veterans or whistleblowers. Under VA policy, employees authorized to view medical records must only access the minimum necessary in order to perform their jobs.
“Inappropriate access of patient health records, either during or post treatment, is absolutely unacceptable and in violation of privacy laws and regulations, VA policies and procedures and our principles,” the VA said in a written statement.
The number of privacy breaches reported each year between 2011 and 2014 almost doubled from 1,547 to 3,054. VA official John Oswalt claimed the growing number of complaints shows that the department has been effective in encouraging staff to report potential violations.
Both the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights are responsible for addressing privacy violations. The VA provides monthly reports on data breaches to Congress. However, the reports are not comprehensive as they do not include all of the incidents provided to ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The VA should make sure all their employees undergo rigorous training and receive a constant reminder about the importance of following privacy regulations. The agency still has a long way to go in restoring credibility so that people feel safe trusting them with such sensitive and private information,” said Fausone.
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