Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Monday compared long lines at Disneyland to the wait times veterans experience for health care, an analogy that riled veterans groups and lawmakers alike.
Concerned Veterans for America called Mr. McDonald’s remarks offensive.
“It also shows that he doesn’t even view long wait times and secret wait lists as real problems in need of a fix,” said John Cooper, a spokesman for Concerned Veterans for America. “To compare veterans’ experiences waiting weeks and months for care to tourists waiting in line to see Mickey Mouse demonstrates just how out of touch the secretary is with the struggles many veterans deal with while waiting for care at the VA.”
Mr. McDonald made the remark while fielding questions from reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” Mr. McDonald said. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”
Mr. Cooper said the secretary’s comments “display a lack of seriousness about solving the deep, structural problems within the VA and are further evidence that Secretary McDonald is not the serious reformer he promised to be.”
“The secretary should be ashamed of these comments, and he should publicly apologize to the hundreds of thousands of veterans whose experiences he has so casually dismissed,” Mr. Cooper said.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, responded to the VA secretary on Twitter: “This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines.”
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, said the scandal over the VA’s phony wait times that erupted two years ago is the very reason President Obama tapped Mr. McDonald to replace VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“There is nothing amusing about VA’s performance over the past few years, and comparing VA wait times to those of an amusement park is just plain wrong,” Mr. Miller said. “Wait times are of critical importance to the veterans waiting for VA medical care, and they should be to Secretary Bob McDonald as well. Unfortunately, nearly two years after McDonald took over at VA, the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences.”
Mr. Miller said the VA still hasn’t been able to hold employees accountable for manipulating wait times to make it only appear that veterans are receiving faster care.
“In the meantime, attempts among department officials to downplay the significance of wait times for VA medical care will only further erode the trust of the veterans the department is charged with serving,” he said.
Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, noted that Mr. McDonald made the comments after two years of scandals and controversy linked to the agency’s waiting lists.
“The frustration, fear and helplessness our veterans feel waiting for months to get the health care they need is nothing compared to a day at Disneyland and the Secretary should be embarrassed for making such a comparison,” Mr. Kirk said in a statement. “Their ‘satisfaction with the experience’ is substandard time and time again, like at Hines VA where food trays are served with cockroaches and rooms are covered in dangerous mold. The Secretary should apologize for his tone deaf comments and show more respect for the men and women he is supposed to be serving.”
The secretary told reporters that most veterans are satisfied with the quality of care they receive. He said a “create date” to measure wait times would not be a valid gauge of a veteran’s overall experience.
The Government Accountability Office said in April that it was more open to a “preferred date,” which would begin after an appointment is confirmed, to analyze wait times.