News & Politics

VA Secretary Compares Wait Times to Ride Lines at Disney

YouTube Screenshot of VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald compared the length of time veterans wait for health care to the ride lines at Disney resorts, arguing that his agency shouldn’t use wait times as a measure of success because the popular children’s resorts don’t do it either. Republicans and conservative organizations immediately shot back at him for trivializing a serious issue.

“When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?” McDonald asked during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He argued that they measure “what’s important…what’s your satisfaction with the experience.”

“And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure,” the VA secretary concluded.

House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately responded via Twitter. “This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those long lines,” Ryan declared.

A July 2014 report from the office of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who served as a medical doctor, estimated that 1,000 veterans may have died due to long wait times at the VA.

McDonald said most veterans report being satisfied with their care and argued that the average wait time for medical treatment at the VA is actually only a matter of days. He criticized the “create date” metric, which measures veteran wait times by counting from the day he or she first requests care, as an invalid measure of veterans’ experience.

In April, the Government Accountability Office proposed a new metric, called the “preferred date.” It does not count from the first time a veteran makes an appointment.

The conservative organization Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) condemned McDonald’s comments. CVA Vice President for Political and Legislative Action Dan Caldwell called the comments more than “just offensive.”

Next Page: What makes these comments just so terrifying, and how liberals respond when a conservative group calls out the VA.

The episode “shows that [McDonald] doesn’t even view long wait times and secret wait lists as a real problem in need of a fix,” Caldwell said. “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.”

Worse, “his comments also 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.”

Caldwell concluded on a damning note: “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.”

CVA has been criticized by both Democratic presidential candidates, who accused the organization of seeking to “privatize the VA.” The Washington Post fact-checked these claims and found them false.

Likely, Democrats will repeat these claims to delegitimize veterans’ complaints about wait times and to reject any disagreement with the VA secretary.

This is not the first time McDonald has declared that “veterans love the care they get at the VA.” Let us hope that these statements do not reveal his true level of commitment to reform, otherwise the brave men and women who serve this nation will continue to receive less than they deserve.