Veterans Affair Secretary Robert McDonald compared the time veterans wait to receive healthcare at the VA to the waiting times at Disney World. He said that his agency shouldn’t use wait times as a measure of success because Disney doesn’t.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said to a group of reporters on Monday. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”
Of course, most people don’t die waiting to ride Space Mountain.
The VA secretary argued that most veterans reported being satisfied with their care. He further argued that the average wait time was a matter of days. McDonald also blasted the so-called “create date,” which calculates a veteran’s wait time by counting from the day the veteran first requests care, asking whether it was a “valid measure” of a veteran’s VA experience.
His remarks drew a firestorm of criticism. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) called for McDonald’s resignation.
“Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said in a statement. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), an Iraqi War veteran who lost both legs in Iraq also condemned the remarks.
“Comparing abhorrent wait times to a trip to Disneyland is unbelievably tone-deaf and hurtful to American heroes desperately in need of care,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) both blasted McDonald on Twitter.
Because veterans aren't waiting for health care at Space Mountain. https://t.co/g2ozycmTxK
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 23, 2016
This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines. https://t.co/OxfT3AYzTi
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 23, 2016
Disney itself has also pushed back against the remarks, with a Disney Parks representative telling Independent Journal Review that they take wait times seriously.
“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 representative said.
McDonald walked back on his remarks, saying in a statement it was never his intention to suggest he didn’t take the VA’s mission of “serving Veterans very seriously.”
The VA also released a statement saying that they are working to improve veteran healthcare.
“This is a solemn duty that we take seriously,” the statement said. “We know that Veterans are still waiting too long for care. In our effort to determine how we can better meet Veterans’ needs, knowing that their satisfaction is our most important measure, we have heard them tell us that wait times alone are not the only indication of their experience with VA and that’s why we must transform the way we do business.”