Vets Identity At Risk

PUBLISHED: 2:09 AM 27 Jan 2018

V.A. Database Manager Suspected Of Stealing Server, Selling Veterans Personal Identity Information

He Carried Servers Home After He Was Fired.

How many people were compromised.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and its employees have a long history of mishandling the care, treatment, and information of veterans in their systems.  However, when VA employees go out of their way to profit from such abuse of the trust placed in them, it is disturbing.

But that is just what an Arkansas man, Phillip Hill, is accused of doing.  Hill, a 32-year-old resident of Benton, Arkansas, stands accused by a federal court of ‘attempted trafficking of access devices,’ which is a legal way of saying he was caught attempting to sell Social Security numbers and other similar identifying information.  He did this with the use of s server he stole, and with access to the network that the server worked on.

In a news release, Cody Hiland, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, alleged that Phillip Hill attempted to sell the personal data (personally identifying information or PII) of vets, members of their families, and even of employees at the VA.

He stands accused of attempting to sell this information to an informant employed by law enforcement agencies, who offered him $10,000 for the data.

Phillip Hill had worked as a database manager at a VA data center and was fired from that job on December 6.  However, he told the informant that he was still able to get into the VA databases and that he could still access personally identifying information on veterans, their family members, and even VA employees.

He accomplished this by stealing a server from the VA and utilizing that server to access the database remotely.  Doing this, he could view much of the information in the VA database, and selling it for a profit would be simple.

Hill was reportedly arrested outside of a data center at a VA office on December 17.  He was charged with aggravated identity theft, as well as possession of device-making equipment.

Authorities involved in the case stated that Hill used someone else’s personal information and that he also possessed blank identification cards, something that non-government individuals are not generally allowed to do.

On Thursday, Hill appeared before a United States Magistrate and was released on bond, with a trial date set for March 5, 2018.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has had issues with protecting personally identifying information of veterans and their family members before.  While some would excuse this as just the cost of doing business with modern technology, it is disturbing when the person illegally disseminating that information is a government employee.

As with so many government employees, Hill appears to have decided that he was due something more after being fired from his VA job.  Some VA employees seem to have this mindset, where they are willing to bend the rules and regulations to make a profit.

The VA, prior to President Donald Trump’s administration, had a long history of employees abusing the system to protect bonuses, or to turn a personal profit.  During Barack Obama’s presidency, there were repeated VA scandals where the employees manipulated situations so that they could protect their ‘performance incentives,’ a nice way of saying they toyed with the system to protect their bonuses.

A common problem in the VA was the impossibly difficult process of actually firing terrible employees.  As with many government positions, unions protected terrible workers, allowing them to be criminally negligent or incompetent and still preserve their job and their pay.

It also did not help that then- VA Secretary Shinseki did not seem interested in accountability at the department he oversaw.  To make matters worse, the Senate committee that was supposed to oversee the VA, which was led by ‘Independent’ Bernie Sanders, outright refused to provide any meaningful oversight, even when bipartisan demands for oversight came from Senators in both parties.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is slowly being stripped of terrible employees, but the process is one that will take many years still.  President Donald Trump signed legislation in the summer of 2017 that makes it easier to remove bad employees from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but federal employee unions are fighting it at every step.

The Department of Veterans Affairs can be fixed, and President Donald Trump has already taken the first steps to fixing it.  However, it is important that as bad employees are fired, they are being replaced with competent employees who believe in the VA’s mission and who care deeply for veterans.

Phillip Hill is just a symptom of a corrupt culture that the VA cultivated under President Barack Obama’s leadership and poor oversight.  Fixing it will take years, and it may mean the gutting of the VA, but with effort and better standards, veterans may someday have an organization that actually serves them, and not just itself.