Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has received brutal criticism from both ends of the political spectrum after he compared the wait times at VA hospitals to wait times for rides at Disneyland.
After he made the comments Monday morning during a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., the VA chief faced immediate backlash from politicians and lawmakers who saw the comparison as insensitive, disrespectful and inaccurate.
“Comparing abhorrent wait times to a trip to Disneyland is unbelievably tone-deaf and hurtful to American heroes desperately in need of care,” Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth said in a statement provided to Fox News.
Duckworth, who is running for Senate, is an Iraq War veteran who lost her legs while fighting overseas and still receives health care at a VA hospital. She said McDonald “needs to comprehensively address the VA's systemic problems — and that means reducing wait times, improving care and increasing patient satisfaction.”
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he was “troubled” by the secretary’s comments and would like to speak with him.
Senate VA Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (Ga.) said in a statement to Fox that he was “extremely disappointed in Secretary McDonald’s comparison of the deadly VA wait-time scandal to long lines at an amusement park.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also condemned McDonald Monday on Twitter.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump used McDonald’s comments to point to flaws he sees in the Obama administration’s treatment of U.S. veterans.
The VA issued a statement Monday evening emphasizing the efforts they are making to better serve U.S. veterans:
This is a solemn duty that we take seriously. 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.
The VA added that inaccurate data can cause “unintended consequences and confusion,” such as the erroneous bookkeeping that came to the surface in 2014. That year, reports revealed that dozens of patients died while waiting for care at VA facilities and that some VA employees made secret lists to intentionally hide long wait times. McDonald took over after his predecessor, Eric Shinseki, was forced to step down.
“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 Monday.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto blasted the VA secretary Monday, calling his comments both “callous” and “stupid.”
“Last time I checked, you don’t die waiting on a line for Disney,” Cavuto said. “You do die waiting for care.”
The VA is the only national health care system that makes information regarding patient wait time public.
McDonald told Fox News that he acknowledged the VA system need improvement and said he and his colleagues are working hard to address it. He has yet to apologize for his "Disneyland" comparison.