Nova Scotia

DND investigates medical files mix-up

The Department of Defence is investigating after a former member of the Canadian Forces found sensitive health and personal information about other military personnel in his medical file.

The Department of Defence is investigating after a former member of the Canadian Forces found sensitive health and personal information about other military personnel in his medical file.

Wayne Finn said he was stunned to discover everything from other service members' social insurance numbers, blood test results and X-ray reports to dates of birth mixed in with his military medical file.

The 49-year-old Nova Scotia man said he still has information referring to about 20 people in his file, even after returning the files of eight others to the base in Halifax where he was serving.

"What shocked me as I was going through it was finding all these different people on my file. I didn't want to read them because I thought it was being nosy and it's none of my business what's wrong with them," he told The Canadian Press last week.

"It's just ridiculous that all this information is misfiled, that I have all these guys' information — I shouldn't have it."

The accusation comes a month after Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn issued an apology to Sean Bruyea, a former intelligence officer whose medical information was shared widely in the department.

Finn, who served as a bosun on a variety of supply ships, asked the privacy commissioner a year ago to look into the apparent security breach, but said he has received no indication from the commissioner's office that they are pursuing the complaint.

Peter Stoffer, the NDP's veterans affairs critic, asked the commissioner to review Finn's privacy concerns after the 30-year veteran outlined his case to him a couple of months ago.

"The fact that medical information from other people was sent to an individual, that's quite a serious breach," Stoffer said.

A spokeswoman for commissioner Jennifer Stoddart's office said she couldn't comment on a specific case. But a letter from Stoddart to Stoffer dated Nov. 10 indicates that an investigator is looking into the matter.

Military investigates possible privacy breach

Deputy Surgeon General Col. Jean-Robert Bernier said in an email that "an administrative investigation is underway to determine if a privacy breach occurred."

The investigation is being led by the military's chief privacy officer and the head of health records management.

"The issue ... is being taken very seriously by the leadership in the Canadian Forces Health Services," Bernier said.

He said Finn's paper health records would be reviewed to determine if there was a breach under the Privacy Act and the department's Defence Administrative Orders and Directives, which spell out corporate administrative policies for the Forces.

Finn was medically released from the Forces in 2007 because of chronic health problems, including kidney stones and celiac disease. He had applied to receive his medical file sent to his home in Nova Scotia.

Finn collected his extensive medical file at Canadian Forces Base Stadacona in Halifax a month before he was released, but did not open it immediately. When he did, he said he found files belonging to at least eight other people that contained blood test and X-ray results, as well as member names and service numbers.

He returned them to Stadacona, the navy base where Finn saw a military doctor as part of his medical release. He said his doctor removed several other people's files as well.

A physician at the base who Finn said treated him and saw the file would not comment on the case due to reasons of confidentiality.

One document Finn still has in his file contains the service numbers, dates of birth, names, signatures and ranks of 14 people aboard HMCS St. John's during Operation Apollo, Canada's contribution to the fight against terrorism from October 2001 to October 2003.

Another document from his time on HMCS Protecteur during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War lists tuberculosis test results for six crew members and includes their names, social insurance numbers, ranks and where they lived.

Kevin Edwards, a 50-year-old bosun on HMCS Montreal, was one of the crew members named on the document that listed his SIN, service number and TB test result.

"I'm not very impressed with it and where else is it?" he said in Halifax. "It's a big concern not only if you're going to go for any benefits and they can't find it, but if it fell into wrong hands."

Finn said he decided to come forward after Bruyea revealed that his medical files were passed around by federal Veterans Affairs officials in an apparent effort to discredit him.

Bruyea, a leading advocate for better treatment of wounded veterans and their families, launched a $400,000 lawsuit in September against the federal government after he discovered that his files had been accessed by hundreds of bureaucrats. That suit has been settled.

Finn, who said he's missing medical information in his file, also said he too often hears of former members being denied benefits from Veterans Affairs because their health records are incomplete.

"I know there's a lot of lost information out there and there's a lot of vets in a constant battle with Veterans Affairs," he said. "How many people do we hear saying, 'I had an operation, but it's not in my file' or 'I can't put a claim in through Veterans Affairs because they keep denying me?'"