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Almost half-million VA loan, grant files mistakenly deleted

Jun. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

Roughly 464,000 electronic files, including active loan files, were mistakenly deleted from a Veterans Affairs Department computer system last month, Federal Times has learned.

A VA database administrator mistakenly deleted the materials, which had been uploaded to the VA’s home loan programs online application since mid-March, according to VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda. The incident happened May 24 at a data facility in Austin, Texas. The online application is used by VA staff and the department’s loan partners, including lenders and appraisers. [Editor’s note: Federal Times previously incorrectly reported the data loss occured at the Cleveland VA Regional Office, based on incorrect information provided by the VA public affairs office.]

Among the hundreds of thousands of deleted files were active loan files, appraisal documents and grant documents for veterans and service members who qualify for the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant, Schuda said. This program helps disabled vets and service members obtain homes that are specially equipped or renovations that accommodate their disabilities, VA’s website states.

Schuda could not say how many veterans and service members are affected, where they live or whether they have or will be contacted. It also isn’t clear to what extent the incident will add delays to VA’s grants and loan process.

Schuda said no personal information was compromised.

“Our primary goal in addressing this issue is to ensure that impacted veterans and service members are able to close their loan in a reasonable amount of time,” Schuda said in a statement. “VA reached out to lenders, appraisers and staff appraisal reviewers to request them to re-upload appraisals for pending closings; VA’s top lenders (who produce over 70 percent of our volume) noted that the impact on closings, if any, was between one and three days.”

Schuda said VA staff are being retrained to prevent the error from occurring again. In addition, the department has hired a contractor to “ensure disaster recovery is effective in the future,” she added, but declined to name the contractor.

Catherine Gromek, spokeswoman for the VA inspector general, said in a statement the office does not have enough information to decide if a review of the incident is warranted.

“After we receive information on the facts of the disruption, we will determine if a separate review is necessary,” Gromek said.

Gerald Manar, deputy director of national veterans service at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the loss of the data introduces the prospect of huge delays for veterans who filed applications.

“We hope that now the VA realizes the data has been lost, they will jump on it and not only fix the problem but also work with the individuals affected to help expedite their applications,” Manar said.

In recent months, VA has drawn fire for its growing benefits claim backlog, which now totals about 860,000, including almost 570,000 more than 125 days old. The agency has instituted 20 hours of overtime a month for its 10,000 claims processing employees through the end of fiscal 2013. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to eliminate the backlog by 2015 and replace the paper process with a digital one. ■

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