Officials: Local VA must explain records lapse

16 vets’ records found in attic of deceased former VA worker.

The Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s admission that the medical records of 16 veterans were found in the attic of a deceased former employee exposes a problem that needs explanation and attention, officials said Friday.

Centerville police said they were called to the house May 1 after its current owner reported finding a lid-covered box in the attic containing what turned out to be the medical records of 16 veterans. Dayton VA staffers retrieved the records in early May, police said.

“It is troubling to learn that these patient records were found at the home of a deceased employee, and not in a secure area as they should have been,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Protecting patient privacy at VA treatment facilities should be of the utmost importance.”

The campaign of Turner’s opponent in the November election in the new 10th District, Democrat Sharen Neuhardt, also commented on the problems at the VA.

“No one should have to risk having their personal information exposed, especially veterans who have served our country,” said Neuhardt campaign spokesman Michael McGovern. “Every step should be taken to make sure those patients whose records were removed are protected from identity theft and that they receive the benefits they deserve.”

Dayton VA officials declined to release the name of the deceased former employee. The agency, responding to questions from the Dayton Daily News, said Friday that the employee was a registered nurse at the Dayton VA hospital from 1975 to 1981 and again from 1983 to 2000.

The Daily News’ search of public records revealed that Roy A. Beets, a former staff nurse at the Dayton VA Medical Center, was a previous owner of the Centerville house where the records were found.

Beets, 62, died April 7, 2011, according to an obituary notice published in the Dayton Daily News.

Dayton VA officials are trying to determine if anyone ever reported the veterans’ records as missing, how long they were missing, and how they got into the attic, the agency said in a written response Friday.

“Unfortunately, the only party who truly knows what happened is the deceased individual,” the VA said in its response.

Dayton VA officials said they are notifying each of the veterans. One of them, Marine Corps veteran Angelo Arnold, said he received the letter Wednesday.

Thaddeus Hoffmeister, an Army Reserve judge advocate who formerly served as a subcommittee staff director for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the discovery of the records in an attic calls into question whether the Dayton VA hospital has any system for tracking the patient records in its custody.

Hoffmeister also questioned why the Dayton VA took almost two months to notify the veterans.

“They have some explaining to do,” Hoffmeister said.

The VA developed a computerized patient record system in 1998 and has developed an information protection program over the past decade to protect against cyber attacks on records, Dayton VA officials wrote in their statement.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2242 or jnolan@DaytonDailyNews.com.