On Monday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald compared waiting in line at the VA to waiting in line at Disneyland in an attempt to make the point that the Veterans Affairs needs to focus on customer satisfaction.
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 at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”
His poor choice of words has caused many to speak out against McDonald’s comparison. According to Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the comparison to wait times at Disneyland was “just plain wrong.” Rep. Miller went on to say,
In fact, the VA scandal over fraudulent wait times … is precisely why McDonald is now VA secretary,” Miller said in a statement. “Unfortunately, nearly two years after McDonald took over at VA, the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences.”
Today on MSNBC, McDonald responded to whether or not he was going to apologize for his comparison of the VA to Disneyland: “If I was misunderstood or if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it.”
Trivializing wait times as men and women have died waiting for treatment makes it clear that McDonald is out of touch with the issues impacting the Department of Veterans Affairs. In September 2015, the VA deputy inspector general reported that, out of 866,879 veterans who had been backlogged in the VA enrollment system, 307,700 were declared dead by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The deceased veteran applicants died without receiving benefits, as they were missing either financial or non-financial information in their applications. Here is the timeframe for the deaths:
- 10 percent were individuals who died in the last two years: 30,706 records
- 6 percent were individuals who died between two and four years ago: 18,100 records
- 84 percent were individuals who died more than four years ago: 258,367 records
It is unclear how many of the veterans who died while waiting to be enrolled in the VA system actually died from suicide. The report just states that they were declared deceased by the SSA. Some families have spoken out after losing their veteran to suicide as they waited for treatment. Treating mental health issues often requires immediate intervention, and delayed enrollment has had some grave consequences. More focus should be applied to this area to determine how long a person needing direct intervention has to wait.
General Shinseki resigned as VA secretary due to these prolonged wait times and other assorted scandals. Given Secretary McDonald’s comments and the comparison of the VA to wait lines at Disneyland, it appears Shinseki’s resignation and the appointment of McDonald has brought about zero change.
Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert Lang