The Department of Veterans Affairs' long-term failure to provide timely health care to former members of America's military is intolerable.

But the widespread, systematic lying by VA officials and employees to hide that fundamental shortcoming is downright disgraceful.

And now an audit by the agency reveals that this appalling pattern of deceit has extended to Charleston's Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

As reported on our front page Thursday, nearly 40 percent of that facility's employees who were interviewed by VA investigators said they "were instructed to falsify appointment data."

That's roughly three times above the national average documented by the VA audit.

And as awful as such self-serving lies are, they reflect an even larger - and more reprehensible - lie to America's veterans.

Our military members rightly expect the government to fulfill its part of the deal by delivering quality health care to them while they're in - and after they leave - the armed forces.

The VA has rampantly violated that moral pledge. The agency, citing an internal investigation, conceded in June that 35 veterans died while waiting for care at the agency's Phoenix health care center.

That same month, the VA also admitted that more than 120,000 veterans across the nation had not gotten the care they were waiting for - and that officials at VA facilities routinely pressured staffers to fudge records to conceal those extended delays.

Solving a problem usually requires first accurately identifying it. But by covering up its care-delivery problems, far too many people at the VA further postponed the long-overdue fixing process.

Congress did agree this week to provide $16.3 billion in emergency VA funding before leaving for its August recess.

Yet money alone won't cure all that's ailing the VA. The agency's budget has soared from $45 billion in 2000 to more than $153 billion this year.

Much of that increase, of course, was necessitated by the grim casualty numbers from U.S. military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So if more funding is needed to properly serve our veterans, Congress must provide it.

But West Point graduate Bob McDonald, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the new VA secretary Tuesday, clearly has to clean house.

Those who directed - and carried out - the big lie that obscured the VA's shameful neglect of its duty must be held accountable. That includes those who did so at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

And those who have honorably served in our nation's military must receive the good - and timely - health care they were promised.