Washington, D.C. was not the Happiest Place on Earth for Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald after he compared medical treatment for veterans to Disneyland on Tuesday, drawing criticism from Republicans and veterans affairs groups. McDonald said that the “experience” is more important than the wait times. Wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals have been significant and partly led to the resignation of McDonald’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?,” McDonald said as part of his remarks at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
For the record, Disneyland does track wait times and puts that information on their mobile app. Many ride hours are less than an hour while the Veterans Affairs previously had a goal of seeing patients within fourteen days. Although, McDonald said that that goal was not useful, “The 14-day measure was irrelevant and got us in trouble.”
“The American Legion agrees that the VA secretary’s analogy between Disneyland and VA wait times was an unfortunate comparison because people don’t die while waiting to go on Space Mountain,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett. “We also disagree with the substance of his comment because wait times are very important to not just the satisfaction quotient, but in some cases the veterans health.”
Top Republicans also took aim at McDonald’s comment. Presidential presumptive nominee Donald Trump tweeted, “Obama’s VA Secretary just said we shouldn’t measure wait times. Hillary says VA problems are not ‘widespread.’ I will take care of our vets!” The Clinton quote was a reference to remarks by the former Secretary of State in 2015.
Speaker Ryan also tweeted, “This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines.” His office also said in a statement, “This kind of flippant comment shows just how seriously the Obama administration’s VA is taking these life or death problems.”
A Government Accountability Office report from March criticized the Department for its long wait times and inefficiency. Sampling 180 recently enrolled veterans, they found “nearly half were unable to access primary care because VA medical staff did not schedule appointments for these veterans in accordance with (Veterans Health Administration) policy.”