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Out of Touch

May 27, 2016
Weekly Columns

Our veterans, who have served during times of war and peace, have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation. They are defenders of liberty and have ensured all Americans can continue to enjoy freedom and security. Considering the wide extent of selfless service rendered by current and past service members and their families, it was shocking and inexcusable that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald recently chose to make light of excessive waiting periods experienced by veterans in need of care.  

While speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Secretary McDonald shamefully compared waiting for care at the VA to waiting in line at Disney amusement parks. He explained, “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.” 

I am amazed that Secretary McDonald could ever think the comparison was appropriate. Further, I am disappointed that rather than apologize and admit the error of his ways, he later insisted he had been “misunderstood.” To compare waiting for healthcare with time in line for a Disney attraction demonstrates an attitude and perspective that is out of touch with reality. Furthermore, it devalues the contributions and service of veterans and underscores an Administration that has not managed its responsibilities appropriately or prioritized those who have risked their lives most to keep us safe. 

Today, there are more than 1.4 million service members on active duty and 21 million veterans living in the United States. Following their service, our veterans should be confident that their healthcare and other earned benefits are provided by a professional staff and in a timely manner. Despite a $10 billion Veterans Choice program, which provides for non-VA doctor visits for veterans 40 miles away from a VA facility or who have waits for VA providers longer than 30 days, veterans are still struggling to receive timely and quality care. As first discovered in 2014, thousands of veterans seeking care through VA health clinics and facilities have been neglected, due to internal mismanagement. Even worse, veterans have died while waiting to be seen. 

No veterans should be at the back of any line in America. And for their selfless service to our country, certainly they’ve earned the right to never be in line for their healthcare. Waiting times at the VA are no joke. The Obama Administration, which has run the VA for almost eight years, promised to remedy the ongoing problems at the VA with new leadership. Given Secretary McDonald recent remarks, it doesn’t appear that much has changed to ensure a grateful nation repays our veterans for their selfless sacrifice and service.