Back in 2014, it appeared the U.S. government was heading in the right direction when it made a change in the lead position with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In May of that year, Eric Shinseki resigned and apologized for a scandal where employees throughout the large VA hospital system allegedly hid months-long wait times that veterans faced as they sought care.
At the time of his resignation, Shinseki said “I can’t explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our healthcare facilities. This is something I rarely encountered during my 38 years in uniform. I cannot defend it because it is indefensible. But I can take responsibility for it and I do.”
Shinseki had no choice to resign at the time due to the pressure of the administration needing to do something in wake of the VA’s problems.
Fast forward two years under the direction of Robert A. McDonald.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website touts McDonald’s early accomplishments and the system in his profile write up.
It says “since joining VA, Secretary McDonald has led the Department in its ambitious transformational journey to be a world-class service provider and the No. 1 customer-service agency in the Federal government giving Veterans consistent, high-quality experiences.”
Well this assertion was tested just this past Monday when McDonald talked to reporters during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.
He was asked about why the VA doesn’t publicly report when veterans first ask for an appointment, which is also called “create date.”
McDonald said the veteran’s satisfaction needs to be measured, not the days waiting for an appointment.
Then he officially put his foot in his mouth.
“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? What is important is what is your satisfaction with the experience.”
So the man tasked with changing the VA and the same man some consider on a short list of vice-presidential candidates for Hillary Clinton just compared veterans waiting in line to tourists waiting in line at Disney.
Just a couple of years ago so many stories came out about veterans dying as they “wait in line” for care.
I don’t know of too many instances where Disney tourists died while waiting in line.
Critics quickly responded to McDonald’s comparison.
“It also shows that he doesn’t even view long wait times and secret wait lists as real problems in need of a fix,” said John Cooper, a spokesman for Concerned Veterans for America. “To compare veterans’ experiences waiting weeks and months for care to tourists waiting in line to see Mickey Mouse demonstrates just how out of touch the secretary is with the struggles many veterans deal with while waiting for care at the VA.”
His comments coming just one week away from Memorial Day give him an unfortunate situation.
How can McDonald go anywhere on Memorial Day for a service without being pelted with questions on his comments from veterans?
While some of the work he’s done has been touted, this comment puts a spotlight once again on how the VA system as a whole still has a lot of things needing to be fixed.
Likely, the VA will be looking to a new person in McDonald’s position in the near future.
I’m not sure he can recover from these comments.