WASHINGTON – A review of cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs has revealed problems with 123 gravesites, including eight cases in which people were buried in the wrong gravesite.
The other mistakes consisted primarily of headstones and markers that were incorrectly moved to the wrong gravesites during renovation projects, generally one grave space away from where they were supposed to be.
The department said it has contacted or will be contacting the affected families to apologize and to describe the corrections being made.
"VA apologizes to the families affected by these errors," the department said in a written statement. "We strive to operate the best cemetery system in the world and we take immediate corrective actions any time we identify any issue."
The problems at the VA cemeteries don't appear to be near the scale of those discovered at Arlington National Cemetery, where an internal Army investigation uncovered at least 211 graves that were unmarked or misidentified. In one instance, eight urns containing cremated remains were found in a single, unmarked grave. The Government Accountability Office has since said that Arlington's management has improved greatly since the cemetery's top two officials were forced out.
VA officials said the problems they discovered occurred at a fraction of the 1.3 million headstones and markers reviewed at 83 cemeteries.
The VA's audit began after employees with the VA's National Cemetery Association found that a contractor at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery had shifted 47 markers one grave space away from the correct gravesite. As a result of the mismarked graves, four family members of veterans were incorrectly placed in the wrong gravesite. After notifying the next of kin and members of Congress, the staff reset the 47 markers to the correct gravesites and relocated the four incorrect burials.
Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the VA, said that the problems found at Fort Sam Houston prompted the VA's National Cemetery Administration to look at other cemeteries where markers and headstones had been realigned over the past decade to prevent or limit damage.
The VA now will require contractors to keep the markers at the gravesite rather than remove them.
Tallman said that a final audit report has not been completed because reviews at two VA cemeteries in California are not yet done. To protect a family's privacy, the VA does not release the names of the families affected.
A summary of the VA's findings said that problems were found at cemeteries in six states with the largest number of mistakes taking place at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
The other cemeteries involved are Dayton National Cemetery in Ohio, Santa Fe National Cemetery in New Mexico, Beverly National Cemetery in New Jersey, Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore, Philadelphia National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Houston National Cemetery in Texas.
Details of the VA review were first reported by The Washington Post.