Veterans Affairs Rolls Out Ethics Framework for Guarding Vets’ Data

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The agency aims to set expectations around who can manage, view and access veteran data.

The Veterans Affairs Department Monday announced the launch of a principle-based ethics framework the agency developed to better protect and secure veterans’ data.

The overarching ethical framework encompasses nine principles that collectively outline how veteran data should be managed, used and viewed by veterans, VA staff and external stakeholders.

“VA’s principle-based ethics framework takes a proactive approach to data management and privacy by setting standards for our partners to follow,” Acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone said in a statement. “VA is applying this framework to all data interoperability initiatives, including those tied to our COVID-19 response and modernization efforts.”

The ethics principles were developed by the Data Ethics Work Group under the VA Interoperability Leadership team and the Veteran’s Health Administration’s National Center for Ethics in Health Care, and in concert with veterans. The ethics principles are part of VA’s ongoing efforts to improve the veteran experience and boost trust among the veterans it provides various services to. According to VA, “all VA directives, policies and standards will reflect these principles” when finished, with an anticipated completion date of late 2022.

The principles are:

  • The primary goal for use of veteran data is for the good of veterans.
  •  Veteran data should be used in a manner that ensures equity to veterans.
  •  The sharing of veteran data should be based on the veteran’s meaningful choice.
  • Access to and exchange of veteran data should be transparent and consistent.
  • De-identified veteran data should not be reidentified without authorization.
  • There is an obligation of reciprocity for gains made using veteran data.
  • All parties are obligated to ensure data security, quality and integrity of Veteran data.
  • Veterans should be able to access to their own information.
  • Veterans have the right to request amendments to their own information.

“All parties who oversee access to and use of veteran data or have access to and use veteran data must carefully consider and apply this principle-based ethical framework in the context of the specific clinical, technical, fiscal, regulatory, professional, industry and other standards specifically applicable to each data access or use,” VA said in a blog post highlighting the principles. “Consistent application of this framework will ensure the integrity and trustworthiness that veterans and other stakeholders expect and deserve when veteran data is accessed or used.”

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