Kip Braden

Kip Braden, of Glendive, discusses patient privacy issues at the VA Montana Health Care System at Fort Harrison.

A Glendive veteran says his confidential medical diagnosis, birth date, address and Social Security information were compromised when the VA Montana Health Care System mishandled his request for medical services.

Kip Braden, a U.S. Army, Air Force and National Guard veteran, was waiting for authorization papers from the VA for outpatient services, but when his paperwork arrived, it was for a Bozeman veteran. The authorization papers included the Bozeman veteran’s name, address, date of birth, Social Security information and his medical condition.

VA officials have characterized the mix-up as a “mishandling” of correspondence.

“I feel violated,” Braden said. “They’ve sent my personal information out to who knows where, and who knows what they will do with it. It is indicative of a dysfunctional system that I thought was getting better.”

In a letter to Braden, Johnny Ginnity, acting director of the VA Montana Health Care System, acknowledged the error and said it was under investigation.

“We would like to assure you that appropriate procedures for processing mailings will be reviewed and implemented to prevent this from happening again,” Ginnity said in the letter.

Ginnity went on to say that he was notifying Braden so he could take appropriate steps to protect himself against identify theft. Ginnity also advised Braden that if he believes his privacy rights have been violated he may file a complaint with the Veterans Health Administration.

Braden, 60, said he has filed a complaint.

“If someone screws up my finances, who is responsible?” Braden said. “I’ve roasted and frozen my butt off in service to my country. I deserve better from the VA.”

Braden said he is 80 percent disabled from service-related injuries that include two bad legs, two bad hands, a bad back and a pinched nerve in his neck.

He has also alerted U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., because he believes the problem is more widespread than just two veterans.

Randy Martin, public affairs officer for the VA Montana Health Care System, said it is possible that more than two veterans have been affected.

“When humans are involved, it’s completely possible humans make mistakes,” Martin said. “It is not acceptable any time it happens.”

Since the incident, the woman responsible for the error has been moved out of that department, Martin said. In addition, staff has been added to the department to provide better control of outpatient service requests to help prevent similar mistakes.

A federal investigation was launched earlier this year to examine problems in the nationwide health care system. Montana’s sites at Fort Harrison and Billings are among about a third of the audited sites that are flagged for further investigation. Results of that investigation are pending.

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