WASHINGTON – A Republican senator on Tuesday called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to resign after McDonald compared long wait times at VA health care sites to waiting in line at a Disney amusement park.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said McDonald’s “preposterous statement is right out of Never-never land” and said the VA leader has shown he cannot ensure that veterans receive health care in a timely manner.
“Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA,” Blunt said.
McDonald said Monday that the VA should not use wait times as a measure of success, comparing waits for VA health care to the hours people wait for rides at Disney theme parks. McDonald said a veterans’ health-care experience was more important than the time spend waiting for an appointment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called McDonald’s comments “disgusting and beyond the pale,” although he stopped short of calling for McDonald to step down.
“This is not make-believe. This is not Disneyland, or Wonderland, for that matter,” Ryan told reporters. “Veterans have died waiting in line for their care.”
There was no immediate comment Tuesday from the VA. On Monday, VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon put out a statement acknowledging that veterans are still waiting too long for care and that “we must transform the way we do business.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington state, a member of the Republican leadership, said McDonald’s comments were hard to believe. “When you go to Disneyland, you aren’t wondering if you are going to live long enough to make it to Space Mountain,” she said.
Republicans said McDonald’s comments were especially egregious since he took office in 2014 after his predecessor was forced out amid a scandal over chronically long wait times at VA health care sites and reports that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Similar problems were discovered at VA health sites nationwide, along with a widespread practice among VA employees of creating secret lists to cover up the long wait times and receive VA bonuses.
McDonald should clarify his comments and “show some empathy for our veterans that he is supposed to serve,” Ryan said.