Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald caused a small uproar among leading Republican politicians on Monday after he said hospital wait times were not the best way to measure veterans’ satisfaction with the agency.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?” McDonald said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, the Washington Post reported. “What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump were among those who criticized McDonald’s comments. In a series of tweets, Ryan accused McDonald of making light of the struggle veterans face to receive medical care.
“This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines,” Ryan said.
This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines. https://t.co/OxfT3AYzTi
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) May 23, 2016
Trump connected the controversy to his likely foe in the general election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He noted that Clinton said last October that the VA’s problems were not as “widespread as it has been made out to be,” though her campaign later said she was outraged by long hospital wait times and other issues.
“Obama’s VA Secretary just said we shouldn’t measure wait times,” Trump tweeted. “Hillary says VA problems are not ‘widespread.’ I will take care of our vets!”
Obama’s VA Secretary just said we shouldn’t measure
wait times. Hillary says VA problems are not ‘widespread.’ I will take care of
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 23, 2016
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also released a statement criticizing McDonald’s “ludicrous” Disneyland comment.
“Up to 307,000 veterans have reportedly died waiting for care due to corruption and mismanagement at the VA, so it is astonishing that VA Secretary Robert McDonald would suggest wait times don’t need to be measured,” Priebus said. “Drawing comparisons to lines at Disneyland is ludicrous and shows the leadership crisis at the VA is far from being solved.”
Despite allegations that his agency has not done enough to speed up appointments for veterans, McDonald told reporters Monday that the primary focus should be on the quality of care and necessarily not on the wait times.
A General Accounting Office report in March maintained that the agency’s reforms have not addressed delays in delivering care. But McDonald criticized the metric used by the GAO report, which measured wait time from when a patient first attempts to schedule a visit to when they get treatment. McDonald called the measurement misleading.
“It is not what we should be measuring,” McDonald said Monday. “We don’t think it is valid. … We have a very large health care system. I don’t want to create more measures that are irrelevant.”
The VA came under fire after a 2014 scandal in which some facilities’ employees were found to have altered wait time statistics after delays extending beyond the agency’s guidelines. As a result, at least 35 veterans died while waiting for care at a hospital in Phoenix, the VA said at the time. Then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign in the aftermath.
But despite the agency’s best efforts, issues in delivering care have not been fully resolved. A recent audit by the VA Office of Inspector General found that employees at a facility in Fort Collins, Colo., were still skirting guidelines to make wait times seem shorter. In addition, the audit noted that the hospital didn’t use a VA program developed in the wake of the 2014 scandal to improve wait times.