- - Monday, July 21, 2014

It’s not just the living the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing. Though the veterans hospitals have consigned 120,000 veterans to limbo to await a hospital appointment, an inspector general audit reveals that mistreatment and disrespect continues long after the heroes of the nation have passed their final review.

Whether a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman is struck down in his prime during active-duty service or dies after a long and full life, the nation pays its last respects by assigning a veteran’s mortal remains to a place of honor.

Many rural areas have no national cemeteries close by, and rural veterans are often buried in cemeteries that are a considerable distance from his friends and loved ones, making pilgrimages to their graves difficult and painful.

To make sure a veteran can be buried at a convenient national cemetery, an agency of the VA called the National Cemetery Administration is assigned to deal with finding a better solution than indifference and inconvenience. The department’s inspector general says the agency gamed the final numbers by coming up with a flexible definition of “rural.” It’s a word that most people understand clearly.

Steve L. Muro is the man ultimately responsible for the National Cemetery Administration’s flawed figures. He retired last month from his post as head of the VA’s cemetery system, getting out just in time.

A separate audit report accuses Mr. Muro of wasting money and developing a “less-than-arm’s-length relationship” with a woman who was a contractor for the department.

Mr. Muro called her more than 1,200 times over the course of a single year, spending up to four hours a day talking to her. He told investigators that the calls were “business-related” and dealt with contracting issues. She received $374,167 over three years for her personal services to the department.

While he was busy chatting with her about business matters, Mr. Muro’s office oversaw renovations that misidentified the graves of hundreds of veterans. A 2012 review of national cemeteries found that at least nine were plagued with problems such as veterans buried in the wrong graves, and after repairs headstones moved to incorrect locations.

The VA’s chief of staff promises to review the contract with Mr. Muro’s friend and “take corrective action, if appropriate.” Clearly, the VA’s problems run much deeper than just long waits for health care services. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserve better, much better in this life — and in a send-off to the next.