The news that Clinton granted a unique burial waiver to the former surgeon general, who is 81, came as the Clinton administration sought to calm the storm over burial waivers at the revered national cemetery. The Gravegate controversy erupted with the revelation that $10 million Democratic donor Larry Lawrence got an Arlington waiver after serving as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland – a job critics said he bought with campaign dollars – and in the World War II merchant marine. Army Secretary Togo West yesterday released a list of 69 waivers granted since 1993 – none appeared to be major donors except Lawrence – and West had a meeting with the seven major veterans groups, where, he acknowledged, “heated words” were expressed.

A veterans leader called the meeting “a good first step,” but said he remains concerned about inconsistent decisions about who gets buried at Arlington. It's unclear why Clinton granted the burial waiver for Koop, who never served in the real military but who's been a close Clinton ally in the war on smoking. The cemetery is reserved for soldiers and sailors who died in action, served 20 years in the military or were highly decorated. Cabinet-level officials and members of Congress with honorable military service also can be buried there.

Lawrence's service in the merchant marine and as an ambassador didn't qualify him for burial at Arlington, which is why he needed an exception. White House officials confirmed that Clinton granted an exception to a living non-military official. Other sources said it was to Koop, and the White House refused to comment but didn't dispute that. Before Koop's name came up, veterans leaders said they'd be angry if any living person was able to reserve a plot at the nation's most prestigious military cemetery. “One of the principles of Arlington is that no sites are reserved,” said Phil Budahn, spokesman for the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans group with 2.4 million members. “If a single living person was given a reservation at Arlington, that would be unconscionable,” Bob Wallace, deputy executive secretary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told The Post.

West said he also granted one waiver to a living person, an elderly woman, so that she could be buried with her family.

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