RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Virginia Department of Veterans Services is working to find out why a large number of documents, including veterans’ benefit claims, were discovered in a storage unit.
The Department said the unit belonged to a former DVS employee who worked at the agency’s veterans benefits office located at Richmond’s McGuire VA Medical Center.
More than 5,000 personally identifiable records of veterans were found, affecting some veterans in North Carolina.
Frank Ellis lives in Wendell.
He served his country faithfully since 1996 but his faith in the care promised to him for serving is dwindling.
“I have faith in some of the doctors I see, but the VA as a whole? Not really,” Ellis said.
Ellis found out about the lost documents in a letter.
“I started thinking about when I first applied for benefits. Nothing happened for over a year,” Ellis said.
“It’s affecting his mental health it’s affecting everything we do and it’s just been an ongoing process of red tape,” said Ellis’ wife, Kerry.
The Department said the former employee who took the records eventually stopped making payments on the storage unit, which was auctioned off. The former employee worked at DVS from January 2012 until August 25, 2015.
The unit’s new owner called police when they found the boxes of documents.
“There was no accountability. No oversight,” Kerry said.
The more than 5,000 personally identifiable records contained names, addresses, even social security numbers.
They also found nearly 700 benefits claims that either we’re filed late or not at all.
Ellis’ information was a part of that discovery.
“I think my first claim was one sitting in a box and nothing happened to it,” Ellis said.
DVS hasn’t told Ellis exactly what of his was found in that storage unit.
“I called the number on the back of the form, nobody knew what we were talking about,” said Kerry. “I asked for a copy of the records, they said they’d call us back in 24 to 72 hours that time has passed.”
“We are in the process of reviewing documents and determining the status of all claims as quickly as we are able,” said John Newby, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “We are committed to providing additional information to impacted veterans and to the public as we determine the full scope of the situation and how many veterans may be affected.”
Ellis eventually filed a new claim and is receiving financial support.
His wife is also worried about why the documents were taken in the first place.
“We don’t know if the information has been compromised. We want to hope it hasn’t but we don’t know for sure,” she said.
“This VSO lady could have just not cared and swept it in a box and went on about her business,” said Ellis.
DVS is offering free year of credit monitoring but they won’t promise that if Ellis’ claim was ignored, he will get compensated for it.
“Really it’s a year loss of pay. I should have been service connected a year sooner than I am now. It could have helped me then. Because even then I was having problems with going to work and doing my job correctly due to PTSD and memory issues,” said Ellis.
“They said if you get a copy of that claim they could possibly retroactive it back, but it’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” Kerry said.
There is a criminal investigation underway and the agency said it sincerely regrets any hardship this caused.
“I am deeply concerned about the veterans whose records have been mishandled, and I have directed my team to use all available resources to identify these men and women and ensure that they receive the benefits and care that they are due,” said Harvey. “At the beginning of this administration, we identified vulnerability in the Commonwealth’s claims process, and we began implementing a solution to this serious deficiency. Regrettably, our fears were justified, and the danger we were working so hard to address was already a reality. We stand ready to assist any and all veterans impacted, and we are determined to prevent any similar mishandling of information from happening in the future.”
They said they have no reason to believe any private information was stolen, but for veterans like Ellis – it’s another hurdle on his road to recovery.
“All I care about is him getting better, him functioning from day-to-day and this just adds one more layer we’re dealing with,” Kerry said.
Additional information is available on the agency website at www.dvs.virginia.gov.
If you are a veteran who filed a claim at DVS’s benefit office located at McGuire VAMC and believe that you may have been affected, please contact DVS at email@example.com, or (804) 786-0286.