The top official at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs indicated that the agency should not use the time that veterans wait for medical care as a metric of success because Disney does not measure wait times for theme park rides.
The Washington Examiner first reported that VA Secretary Robert McDonald made the comments during a breakfast meeting with journalists on Monday, more than two years after the agency faced national scrutiny when staffers were found concealing veterans’ wait times using secret lists.
"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 during the Christian Science Monitor event on Monday. "And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."
McDonald was tapped by President Obama to lead the agency after Eric Shinseki resigned from his post as VA secretary following the wait list scandal in 2014. Dozens of veterans are believed to have died waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital system, from where the secret wait lists first emerged.
This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines. https://t.co/OxfT3AYzTi
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 23, 2016
Wait times at the VA have endured renewed scrutiny after reports have shown persisting problems at agency hospitals despite efforts to improve veterans’ care. A Government Accountability Office report released last month found that the VA lacks sufficient oversight to ensure that veterans receive timely care.
In the face of questions about veterans’ waits for care and the VA’s lack of transparency surrounding the matter, McDonald said Monday that most veterans say they are satisfied with care at the VA and that the average time a veteran waits for care is only days.
A leading official at a veterans group advocating for reform at the VA said that McDonald should be "ashamed" of the Disney comments and that they warrant a public apology.
"This statement from Secretary McDonald isn’t just 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," Dan Caldwell, vice president for legislative and political action at Concerned Veterans for America, 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."