The review of VA cemeteries, which began last year, is the latest in a series of troubling failings involving the remains of service members. Those mistakes have tainted some of the nation’s most venerated military shrines, from Arlington National Cemetery, overlooking the Potomac, to the Presidio, on the shores of the Pacific.
Arlington, which is run by the Army and has taken extensive measures to fix its problems, has been shaken by a scandal involving mismarked and unmarked graves, people buried in the wrong spots and urns that had been unearthed and dumped in a dirt pile. The Air Force has also said that remains of Iraq and Afghanistan service members, and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, processed at its Dover Air Force Base mortuary had been cremated and sent to a landfill.
VA officials said the problems at its national cemeteries were largely the result of sloppy work during renovations involving contractors. Headstones and markers were temporarily removed from the ground, cleaned while sod was repaired and then reinserted in the wrong places. In all, there have been a total of more than 200 misaligned headstones.
Glenn Powers, a deputy undersecretary for the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, said “the numbers of discrepancies remain small but are always unacceptable. We will make appropriate notifications to those family members that we can contact and, in keeping with our culture of accountability and continuous management improvement, fix the issues.”
The problems were first discovered at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio last July when officials tested the accuracy of new maps and realized 47 markers were one space over from where they were supposed to be.
As a result of the misplaced headstones, officials said that four people ended up being buried in the wrong spots there. To save space at sought-after national cemeteries, family members are typically buried in the same plot. But with headstones in the wrong spots, some people were not buried with their loved ones.
VA officials on Tuesday said that no one ended up being buried in the wrong spots at Golden Gate
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