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VA gets stolen laptop back

Signs suggest no one has accessed veterans' data on the notebook, taken from a VA employee's home, the FBI says.

A stolen laptop computer containing sensitive information on more than 26 million U.S. military veterans has been recovered and a preliminary review indicated no data was taken, the FBI and Veterans Affairs Department said on Thursday.

Both the laptop and the external hard drive that were stolen in early May from the home of a VA employee were recovered, federal authorities said in an announcement along with the Montgomery County, Md., Police Department.

"A preliminary review of the equipment by computer forensic teams has determined that the database remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen," the agencies said in a statement. "A thorough forensic examination is under way, and the results will be shared as soon as possible."

The theft of the laptop from a VA employee who had taken it to his home in Aspen Hill, Md., raised fears that nearly all military personnel were at risk of identity theft.

The FBI and VA did not say how the laptop was recovered but credited the U.S. Park Police, saying its "efforts led to the recovery of the equipment."

Lawmakers and veterans' advocates voiced alarm that the government failed to safeguard the data, which could be used in credit card fraud and other crimes.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, called the recovery of the laptop and hard drive "wonderful for veterans and active duty personnel. We are all holding our breath now for the FBI forensic analysis which we hope will confirm that the data has not been compromised."

Both Republicans and Democrats had blasted the administration for allowing the data to be lost and for responding slowly to the theft. Officials have said VA Secretary Jim Nicholson first heard of the May 3 crime on May 16 and only informed the public on May 22, almost three weeks after the theft occurred.

The theft also was going to be costly to taxpayers. The administration asked Congress on Wednesday for $160 million to pay for one year of credit monitoring of military personnel to check for possible identity theft.

The VA also was spending millions of dollars to respond to the incident, including a special call center to respond to veterans' concerns.

Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who chairs the House of Representatives Veterans Committee, said the laptop's recovery "provides reason to be optimistic." But he said the "history of lenient policies and lack of accountability within VA management must be rectified."