Don’t dismiss VA wait times

In remarks that were tone-deaf at best, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald attempted to defend the VA last week by comparing wait times for patients to waits for tourists at theme parks. “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?” he asked during an interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “What is important is, what is your satisfaction with the experience.”

McDonald assumed leadership of the VA in 2014, replacing the department’s acting head after previous secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid a national scandal. Dozens of veterans died while waiting for appointments, and officials covered up the severity of their backlogs by manipulating records. McDonald’s dismissiveness drew heated criticism from members of Congress, and four of five Republican candidates for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat called for his resignation.

When wait times are long enough that people die in line for treatment, the “satisfaction with the experience” cannot be high. Examining the quality of the care patients receive after they are in the room with a doctor doesn’t mean forgetting about how long it took them to get there. Families waiting to enjoy Splash Mountain are not generally in need of critical medical attention. Yet Disney told the Independent Journal Review it keeps track of the time guests wait in line. By week’s end, McDonald expressed regret for his callous comments. But calling his statements a goof would be an insult to Goofy, a Disney character many kids don’t mind waiting a short time to meet.

The above editorial appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.