Consumerism is flowering in the Veterans Administration's cemeteries.

Since April, the VA has been testing a computerized "consumer complaint/compliment system," according to June 9 Federal Register (page 38922).

It was a logical bureucratic responese to the president's executive order of last September that required government agencies to "take specific concrete steps to ensure that the consumer point of view is considered when decisions are made affecting consumers."

"Were you satisfied with the monument provided?""

"Was the appearance of the gravesite satisfactory?"

These are just two of the questions sent out by the VA in a card that begins:

"The administrator would like to know:

"Have we helped you?

"Have we failed you?"

Recipients are next-of-kin, considered by the VA to be consumers in the cemetery business.

Since April 1, 2,017 cards have gone out and 630 have been returned, according to Charles Eyman, who is running the VA program. Positive responses (343) have far outrun negative ones (78, of which 63 had specific complaints about a gravesite or headstone).

In the old, preconsumerism days, the only thing a next-of-kin could do when something was wrong was complain directly to the local cemetery director. Now he can fill out his complaint/compliment card and send it off to Max Cleland, the VA administrator.

Cleland won't get it, of course, though his name is printed on the return card. His staff will, and they'll forward complaints to the VAs national cemetery area office director who in turn will call the specific cemetery director and order him to fix things.

The next-of-kin will get a call to check to see if things have been done right.

If things go right, next September cards will begin going out to the next-of-kin after burials -- a number that averages about 40,000 per year.

The responses will be programmed into a new computer system that is already in the process of going into operation to handle ordering of headstones and markers. Thereafter, for the first time, the VA cemetery people will be able to quickly generate statistics on their volume of business and consumer satisfaction, should Congress, the White House or the press want such information.