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VA Secretary Likens Veterans’ Wait Times to Lines at Disney

Republicans bash McDonald on relevance of measure for health care

VA Secretary Robert McDonald is drawing fire for remarks about wait times for health care. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
VA Secretary Robert McDonald is drawing fire for remarks about wait times for health care. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The secretary of Veterans Affairs at a media breakfast Monday compared veterans’ medical wait times to time spent in line at a Disney theme park, triggering rebukes from Republicans including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.  

VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s comments came after he was asked by a reporter why the VA would not release a specific type of measure regarding wait times for medical treatment, known as the “create date.” McDonald prefaced his answer with an explanation that he doesn’t think the number of days until an appointment is a relevant measure and that the department was working on producing a different type of metric to assess its performance.  

“You know, I think to me, to me, personally, and I’m working on this, the days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring. [What] we should be measuring is the veteran’s satisfaction. I mean, what really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA?” McDonald said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.  

He continued:  “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line, or the number, you know  — what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience. And what I would like to move to eventually is that kind of measure.”  

McDonald’s remarks prompted criticism from Ryan, who first retweeted a news article mentioning McDonald’s comments with the admonishment: “This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines.”  

Ryan later put out an email statement blasting McDonald and the Obama administration.  

“This kind of flippant comment shows just how seriously the Obama administration’s VA is taking these life or death problems. And it’s not acceptable,” Ryan said.  

[Related: VA Health Care Overhaul Passes House ]  

Sen. Mark S. Kirk , who chairs the Senate Appropriations Military Construction-VA Committee, also ripped into McDonald in a statement.  

“The frustration, fear and helplessness our veterans feel waiting for months to get the health care they need is nothing compared to a day at Disneyland and the Secretary should be embarrassed for making such a comparison,” the Illinois Republican said.  

Trump took to Twitter to join in the criticism.  

“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!” Trump tweeted.  

McDonald’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.  

In explaining his comparison at the breakfast, McDonald said the VA was working on a different metric to measure veterans’ experiences.  

“We’re in the process of creating that kind of measure, validating that kind of measure, and making sure it’s, you know, it’s meaningful and it’s valid with the outcome, and that’s really kind of the measure I want to move to,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to, I really don’t want to create more measures of things that are less relevant.”  

The “create date” refers to a metric previously used by the VA to calculate wait times. The term describes the date on which an appointment was made, according to a VA aide. The VA later switched to what’s known as the “preferred date,” to generate metrics on how long veterans were waiting for appointments.  

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