(CN) – A group of Vietnam veterans who claimed their post-traumatic stress disorders were worsened by fears of identity theft when a hard drive containing confidential data was stolen from the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot recover monetary damages, the 11th Circuit ruled.
The Atlanta-based federal appeals court did, however, remand the case to consider the plaintiffs’ nine challenges to federal privacy laws.
Greg Fanin, Jim Perkins and Jessie Qualls – all Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD – filed their lawsuit Feb. 15, 2007 after the VA announced that a computer hard drive containing unencrypted names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and health-care files of more than 198,000 living veterans had been stolen.
They claimed the stress caused by the fear of identity theft and the “loss of trust in the VA” aggravated their PTSD symptoms. They also asserted that sleeplessness, isolation, anxiety and anger have grown worse than before.
But the federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to withhold a monetary award, because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate their actual pecuniary losses, and that recovery is not offered for generalized mental injuries, loss of reputation, embarrassment or other non-quantifiable injury.
However, the court did remand the case to determine whether privacy laws were in fact violated, saying the record provided “no reason to think that all of the alleged violations have been remedied since the … complaint was filed.
“(T)here is a wide gulf between the VA being ‘in the process’ of implementing new procedures and it having those new procedures fully in place,” Judge Carnes wrote.
Despite plaintiffs’ “broad attacks” against the VA, the 11th Circuit ordered the lower court to perform “the retail level, claim-by-claim analysis of the claims. That will allow a more thorough and hierarchical approach to the decision making.”