Politics

VA Secretary Won't Apologize

Ryan: GOP caucus 'dumbfounded' by theme park analogy

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald refused Tuesday to apologize for his comments comparing wait times for military veterans at government-run medical facilities to those at Disney theme parks.  

McDonald told MSNBC he is focused on the entire experience of former military personnel at VA-run facilities rather than just wait times for health care.  

But unlike a day before, he avoided any analogies that might cause more trouble. It’s unclear whether his damage control efforts will appease Republican lawmakers.  

Media reports two years ago revealed scandalous wait times and other shortcomings regarding veterans' health care, leading to the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki and promises by the Obama administration to fix the problem promptly.  

On Tuesday, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell asked the VA chief, who only days earlier had been floated as a possible running mate for likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton , if he would say he is sorry for the Disney analogy.  

[VA Secretary Likens Veterans' Wait Times to Lines at Disney] His response: “I'm here to improve the veteran experience. I'm here to get more veterans in for care. I'm here to reduce the disability claim backlog. You know, wait times are important, but they're not the only measure of veteran experience.  

“And that's what veterans are telling us . You know, we've talked to a lot of veterans,” he said. “It's important and if I was misunderstood or if I said the wrong thing, I'm glad that I have the opportunity to correct it.”

McDonald caused an uproar on Monday when he said that, “To me, personally, and I’m working on this, the days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring.”

“[What] we should be measuring is the veteran’s satisfaction,” he said. “I mean, what really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA?”  

Then came the part that caused GOP members to quickly express shock and anger: “When you go to Disney , do they measure the number of hours you wait in line, or the number, you know — 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."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid backed McDonald, while  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to comment on the issue.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan , R-Wis., offered a summary of how many in his caucus reacted to the analogy:  

“Yesterday, when the VA sec compared the lines at his agency to lines at an amusement park, we were dumbfounded . This is not make believe.”  

[Ryan: VA Chief's Comments Are 'Disgusting' but Not Sure if He Should Resign] Ryan also called on McDonald to clarify his comments and to do something to fix the problems at VA sites.  

Kellie Mejdrich, Lindsey McPherson and Bridget Bowman contributed. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.