On Monday of this week Dept. of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald made a very inappropriate remark about VA wait times. At “The Monitor Breakfast,” a public forum hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Secretary McDonald said, “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience? And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."
Frankly, I was shocked by Secretary McDonald’s comment. Since his ascension to head VA he has proposed a number of good ideas so his current Disney comparison struck me as callous and cavalier.
Going to Disneyland is pure entertainment and not essential for life and health. Nobody’s life or health is on the line when waiting to get on a ride at Disneyland. Conversely, for veterans, access to timely health care can mean the difference between life and death. If diminished survival rates in veterans can be associated with increased wait times to see a doctor, then measuring wait times and using that data to decrease wait times is an appropriate method of helping veterans.
The situation would be different if veterans had to wait a long time to get an appointment for a purely elective procedure such as cosmetic surgery or dentistry. But the concerns over VA wait times involve serious issues like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes—not laser tattoo removal.
When you consider the seriousness of the illnesses for which veterans need medical care, Secretary McDonald’s statements are outrageous and demonstrate a lack of understanding about the seriousness of the VA wait time problem.
The outrage of not seeing the value in measuring wait times at VA gets even more profound when the Veterans Benefits Administration is considered. Secretary McDonald was talking about wait times for healthcare. But what about wait times for appeals? When my clients wait 10 years to finally win their appeals, does Secretary McDonald care? If Disneyland patrons had to wait 10 years to get access to the theme park, what would the public’s perception of Disney be? I realize 10 years is an extreme case to wait for an appeal to be processed. How about 2 years? What if there was a 2-year wait from the time you bought your Disneyland ticket to when you could actually use it? People would be outraged. They would stop going to Disneyland and Disney stock would plummet.
But yet, when our nation’s veterans sacrifice their life and health for our country and are then forced to wait years for a decision on an appeal, nobody cares. The wait times are trivialized by a comparison to a trip to Disneyland.
As a veterans disability lawyer, I’ve dedicated my life to representing disabled veterans And I know better than most how difficult VA wait times can be. Rather than trivializing outrageously long wait times, Secretary McDonald needs to roll out a plan to reduce the backlog for healthcare and veterans benefits appeals.