Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologized Tuesday after 24 hours of blistering criticism to comments likening VA wait times to a Disneyland experience.
“It was never my intention to suggest that I don’t take our mission of serving veterans very seriously,” the secretary said in a statement.
“If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don’t take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Mr. McDonald ignited a firestorm of criticism Monday while speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. He told attendees that questions over delays in care distracted from overall satisfaction rates.
“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.”
The secretary’s apology came after Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, called on him to resign.
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“Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA,” the senator said Tuesday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, did not ask for Mr. McDonald to resign, but did deem the comments “disgusting and beyond the pale.”
The furor over the secretary’s statements was so large that Disney Corporation even issued a statement on Monday.
“We take wait times very seriously. We continually push the boundaries to give our guests the best experience possible. A large team of highly trained industrial engineers are tasked with improving our guest’s experiences, from transportation, to guest flow, to ride comfort and certainly wait times,” the company said in a statement to Independent Journal.
Mr. McDonald’s critics went on to note that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for VA health care at a Phoenix, Ariz., hospital in 2014. The troubled agency experienced similar controversies across the nation over the last two years.