Monday wasn’t the first time in recent months that Veterans Affairs officials have downplayed lingering problems with veterans’ wait times to get medical care, and it wasn’t the first time they’ve invoked Disney as a model company for the federal bureaucracy.
But the combination of the two by VA Secretary Bob McDonald this week touched off a firestorm of frustration and ridicule from department critics, many of whom appear to be sharpening their attacks for the fall elections.
During a Christian Science Monitor press event on Monday, McDonald responded ongoing attacks about how VA leaders measure patient wait times, saying the focus on specific numbers overshadows what should be the larger goal.
“What data do you get from Cleveland Clinic or Kaiser Permanente to compare with our data?” he asked. “To me, personally, the days to an appointment are really not what we should be measuring. What we should be measuring is a veterans’ satisfaction.
“What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA. When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is what your satisfaction is with the experience. What I would like to move to eventually is that kind of measure.”
The comments echo one he made just one month earlier in a nationally-televised C-SPAN interview.
“How does Cleveland Clinic measure wait times? Does it matter?” he said during an episode of the network’s Newsmakers show. “The important thing is to get the veteran in for care, and we’re getting more and more veterans in for care.”
But he did not invoke Disney in that response, and the theme-park connection appears to have made all the difference in critics attacks.
“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,” said officials at Concerned Veterans for America, a frequent critic of the Democratic administration.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., took his attacks to Twitter, writing “The happiest place on earth? Secretary McDonald compares #VA lines to #Disneyland. Seriously.”