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By Will Van Wazer | Section: Jan 28th, 2009 Featured Articles, News

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to pay $20 million to current and former military personnel to settle a class action lawsuit on behalf of the men and women whose personal data was on a laptop computer stolen during a burglary.

The names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of about 26.5 million active duty troops and veterans were on the laptop and external drive, which disappeared while in the custody of a Veterans Affairs data analyst in 2006.

The theft led to an urgent search by federal authorities that ended with recovery of the laptop and a conclusion that the missing data had not been improperly used.

The defendants [VA] have agreed to pay a lump sum of $20 million to the plaintiffs inclusive of fees and costs in exchange for the dismissal of this litigation,” according to the settlement document.

In a statement, the VA said it “is committed to being the ‘gold standard’ in data security, just as we are a leader in the health care industry. We want to assure veterans there is no evidence that the information involved in this incident was used to harm a single veteran.”

The settlement, announced in U.S. District Court in Washington, was reached “in the interests of avoiding the expense, delay, and inconvenience of further litigation of the issues raised in the class complaints,” the agreement says.

The funds will go to military personnel and veterans who were harmed by the loss of personal data, either through emotional distress or through costs incurred in monitoring credit records.
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The settlement ends nearly three years of litigation. After the May 3, 2006, theft, five veterans groups filed the class action suit initially seeking $1,000 in damages for every veteran whose information was compromised in the computer theft.

On June 29, 2006, the FBI announced the stolen laptop had been recovered and that it appeared no one had accessed the personal data. The FBI said it believes the laptop was taken in a routine burglary.

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