With identity theft as the major fraud reported by Americans in 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has designed a new identity card for veterans that will safeguard confidential information.

The card, formally known as the Veterans Identity Card (VIC), will have veterans' photos on the front and identify them as enrollees in the VA's health care system.

Encrypted on a magnetic tape on the back of the card will be the veteran's Social Security number, date of birth and a control number. The magnetic strip also records whether the veteran has a service-connected disability.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation. The Federal Trade Commission listed identity theft as the number one fraud reported by consumers in 2003. Requests from veterans and their congressional representatives were instrumental in bringing about these latest changes.

"The new VIC ensures the security of veterans' personal information as well as ensuring that only eligible veterans receive the benefits and services they've earned," said Kristin Cunningham of the business office for VA's health care system.

Veterans should request the new card at their local medical center. Processing will take five to seven days once eligibility is verified. VA hopes to complete the conversion to the new, safer card by mid-November. The existing cards will remain valid until veterans receive their new cards.

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