By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 8/8/2006 3:01:25 PM ET 2006-08-08T19:01:25

Another computer with veterans' personal information is missing, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday.

This time, information on as many as 38,000 living and deceased veterans was on the computer, which was lost by outside contractor Unisys.

Officials at the Reston, Va., company notified the VA that that desktop computer was missing on Aug. 3, the VA says. Unisys had been hired to help with insurance collections at VA medical centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Included on the computer were veterans' names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, insurance carriers and billing information, dates of military service, and claims data, which may include some medical information, the VA said on its Web site.

“VA’s Inspector General, the FBI and local law enforcement are conducting a thorough investigation of this matter,” said the R. James Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Only veterans who received treatment in the past four years at the two VA medical centers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were impacted by the theft, the VA said.  The agency estimated that records on the computer include information on about 5,000 patients treated at the Philadelphia facility, 11,000 at Pittsburgh, and about 2,000 deceased patients.  The statement also says the computer may have contained information on another 20,000 people who received care through the Pittsburgh medical center.

Unisys managing partner Ted Davies said there were no obvious signs of a break-in at the Unisys office where the desktop was stolen.

"It was the only thing that was missing...there was no obvious break-in," he said. 

The company initially considered that the machine might have been misplaced, but the Unisys facility has been combed three times and the computer did not turn up.

"We are assuming it is not in the building," he said.  Law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, are investigating.  He would not say if the company assumes the desktop has been stolen. 

He described the office where the computer was stored as a "general part of the building," and said it was monitored by security 24 hours every day.  Access to the facility is, says Davies, restricted by key-card.

Unisys said the computer was used for maintenance and support of a VA insurance collections management system.

The news comes only days after officials announced the arrest of two teen-agers allegedly responsible for the theft of a laptop with 26 million veterans' personal information earlier this year. The timing is unfortunate for the agency, which is trying to restore its image in light of the earlier data loss incident.

“VA is making progress to reform its information technology and cyber-security procedures, but this report of a missing computer at a subcontractor’s secure building underscores the complexity of the work ahead," Nicholson said in his statement.

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