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VA Secretary: 'Was Never My Intention' to Suggest 'Noble Mission' Not Taken Seriously

(Department of Veterans Affairs photo)

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said he didn’t intend to make light of the wait times crisis with his comparison to waiting in line for rides at Disneyland.

“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?” McDonald said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in D.C. on Monday. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

In a statement issued by the VA this afternoon, McDonald acknowledged he
“made some remarks on how we’re working to improve veterans’ satisfaction with the care they receive from VA.” He did not specifically mention the Disney reference.

“It was never my intention to suggest that I don’t take our mission of serving veterans very seriously,” he said. “In fact, improving access to care is my number one priority and the priority I have set for the entire department.”

McDonald, former CEO at Procter & Gamble, took over after the last VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, resigned in 2014 due to the wait times scandal.

“For the last two years, the huge majority of VA employees have worked tirelessly to improve the timeliness of the care and benefits we provides to veterans,” McDonald said. “As I’ve told veterans service organizations, members of Congress, and myriad other groups of veterans stakeholders, our goal is to ensure VA becomes the Number 1 customer-service organization in government.”

“To do that, we are following many of the best practices of private sector health care providers and exceptional customer-service organizations. At VA we take our mission of caring for those who ‘shall have borne the battle’ very seriously; we have the best and most noble mission in government.”

McDonald added that if his comments “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.”

The VA secretary had at least one supporter on Capitol Hill today amid many calls to resign: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who reminded reporters that he also has put his foot in his mouth now and then.

“I’m an expert at wrong choice of words and examples. I’m pretty good at that over the years,” Reid said outside a closed policy luncheon. “And I — he could have done a better job talking about Disneyland, but he didn’t. He is a good man, he’s doing his best under very, very difficult circumstances. So I support Secretary McDonald all the way.”

“I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that following my example of saying the wrong things is not the best way to go, but I support him,” he added. “I think he’s doing well.”