VA secretary comes under fire for comparing wait times to Disneyland

VA secretary comes under fire for comparing wait times to Disneyland
© Getty Images

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald on Monday ignited a political firestorm when he downplayed the wait times for veterans at clinics by likening it to lines at Disneyland.

"The days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring. What we should be measuring is the veteran's satisfaction," McDonald told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor media breakfast.


"What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA," he said.

"When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?" he asked. "What's important is what's your satisfaction with the experience.

"And that's really the kind of measure I want to move to," he added. 

The theme park comparison drew condemnation from Republicans, including Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.), a Navy veteran who is up for reelection this year.

“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," said Kirk. 

"The Secretary should apologize for his tone deaf comments and show more respect for the men and women he is supposed to be serving."

The scandal over VA appointment wait times first erupted in 2014 after CNN revealed that veterans were waiting months and even years before getting care, with some dying before an appointment. Former VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiSenate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems Trump VA pick boosts hopes for reform Trump VA pick faces challenge to convince senators he’s ready for job MORE, a four-star retired Army general, resigned over the controversy. 

Republicans piled on McDonald after his comments Monday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLive coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge MORE (R-Ariz.) blasted McDonald's remarks and noted that the data showed that almost 500,000 veterans waited for more than 30 days.

“Secretary McDonald’s comment is outrageous and completely inappropriate. Our veterans aren’t in line for a theme park ride — they are in desperate need of timely access to quality medical treatment," said McCain, who also faces reelection.

"Secretary McDonald’s comparison further erodes what little confidence the American people have left in the Department of Veterans Affairs and its commitment to our veterans," he said.

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteElection Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford Pallbearers, speakers announced for McCain's DC memorial service and Capitol ceremony MORE (R-N.H.) said she was "shocked and outraged" that McDonald would make such a "callous comparison." 

“The secretary said that wait times aren't a valid measure of performance, but I'm sure the families who lost loved ones waiting for care would disagree," said Ayotte, who is also up for reelection this year.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request MORE (R-Iowa) also had harsh words for the secretary, who he said sets the tone for the entire VA.

“The VA is where veterans go for life-saving health care. If customers aren’t satisfied with Disneyland, they can go elsewhere. Veterans have to rely on the VA," he said in a statement.

"If the VA secretary is downplaying wait times, how can the public have confidence that wait list scandals are a thing of the past?”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the comparison to Disney "ludicrous" and said it "shows the leadership crisis at the VA is far from being solved."

“Our veterans deserve better, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE’s claim that problems at the VA are not ‘widespread’ shows she is clearly not the answer. Until Democrats stop protecting government union bosses and corrupt bureaucrats, this will sadly continue to be a problem for our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country.” 

The VA does publish the time waited from a "preferred" appointment date until the actual appointment date, but not when a veteran calls for an appointment and gets one, the "create" date.

According to VA statistics, 5,751,861 veterans were seen within 14 days from their preferred date to their actual appointment date.

An additional 456,969 veterans waited longer than 14 days but under 30 days.

This story was last updated at 4:58 p.m.