"When you go to Disneyland, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?" McDonald asked in an interview on Monday. "What’s important? What’s important is: What’s your satisfaction with the experience?"
On Tuesday McDonald rejected three opportunities to apologize for his comments during an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, saying instead, If I was misunderstood, or if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to correct it," McDonald said.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan responded to McDonald’s interview by tweeting: "Mr. Secretary: No one misunderstood. What you said was wrong. Period."
Ryan wasn’t alone in Washington, tweeting irritably at the VA Secretary’s comments. Representative Jeff Denham called McDonald’s remarks "disgraceful," while Representative Mimi Waters tweeted, "Wait times matter b/c they measure access to care, & vets have died waiting for that care. Our vets deserve better."
Controversy over waiting times at VA hospitals reached fever pitch in 2014 when it was discovered that at least 40 veterans had died waiting for appointments in the Phoenix, Arizona, veterans healthcare system. The scandal also revealed that VA officials kept an off-the-record list of people seeking appointments so that waiting times appeared normal. The debacle resulted in the resignation of then VA Secretary Eric Shineski, McDonald’s appointment.
An analysis conducted that same year by California Healthline found that "Overall, nearly 894,000 appointments at VA health care facilities between August 2014 and February 2015 — about one in 36 appointments during that time period — did not meet VA's timeliness goal of patients being seen within 30 days, including almost 232,000 that involved wait times of longer than 60 days."
In addition, the analysis found that the number of veterans experiencing wait times of more than 90 days almost doubled."
Jeff Miller, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs released a statement Monday saying, "There is nothing amusing about VA’s performance over the past few years, and comparing VA wait times to those of an amusement park is just plain wrong. Wait times are of critical importance to the veterans waiting for VA medical care and they should be to Sec. Bob McDonald as well."
Miller laments that so little has changed around the issue responsible for McDonald’s position.
"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." Miller said.
"But given the fact that VA has successfully fired only a handful of employees for wait-time manipulation while letting the bulk of those behind its nationwide delays-in-care scandal off with no discipline or weak slaps on the wrist, I am not at all surprised these problems persist."