WASHINGTON -- The government said yesterday that it would provide free credit monitoring to millions of veterans whose personal information was stolen last month, acknowledging it was not close to catching the thieves.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said the agency would seek to protect millions of veterans and troops against identity theft after their names, Social Security numbers, and birthdates were taken from a VA data analyst's home May 3.
Those eligible for one year of credit monitoring will be any of the 17.5 million people who are known to have compromised Social Security numbers . Up to 26.5 million could be affected, The VA has said, although some of them appeared to be duplicate names.
``It's not going to be cheap," Nicholson said at a news briefing, adding that authorities were not any closer to finding the stolen data. ``Free credit monitoring will help safeguard those who may be affected and will provide them with the peace of mind they deserve."
He said those who have already received letters from the VA saying they are at risk will receive additional information -- probably in early August after the VA solicits bids from contractors -- on how to sign up for the monitoring.
The VA also will hire a company for data analysis to look for possible misuse of the personal information. There have been no reports of identity theft stemming from the burglary in suburban Maryland.
Veterans groups and lawmakers from both parties have blasted the VA for the theft, which occurred after several years of warnings by auditors that information security was lax. The data analyst, who has since been dismissed, had taken the information home for three years without permission.
Yesterday, veterans advocates praised the announcement as a good ``first step."