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Last week, a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and co-sponsor Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas., to reduce the risk of veterans becoming victims of identity theft and fraud.
The new bill would require the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to discontinue the use of veterans’ Social Security numbers as identifiers in all VA information systems. The bill would require the VA to phase out the use of SSNs as identifiers for all veterans in its system within five years, although a deadline of two years would be set to replace SSNs for new claims for benefits. The new Senate bill has now been referred to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Should the new bill be passed it would certainly be a major step in the right direction and could significantly reduce the risk of veterans becoming victims of identity theft and fraud in the event of a VA security breach. However, changing identifiers is not a straightforward process and it could prove costly.
Any exchange of information between other agencies may still require the use of SSNs. The phasing out of the use of SSNs as identifiers may therefore prove difficult. The costs of doing so could also not be ignored. Such a major undertaking would not be cheap.
The VA is already taking steps to better protect veterans. One of the measures, which started in 2014, is the removal of SSNs from veterans’ healthcare ID cards. Instead of the SSN on the front of the card, the new healthcare ID cards use a Department of Defense Electronic Data Interchange Personnel Identifier to identify veterans. The identifier is also embedded in the magnetic strip and barcode, in place of the SSN.
The VA has also taken steps to reduce the use of full SSNs in correspondence with veterans and restricts the use of Social Security numbers to the last four digits whenever possible. SSNs have also been removed from prescription and mailing labels to prevent accidental disclosure.