Published on Friday, 27 May 2016 13:10 - Written by
He has since apologized for it (poorly) but the statement’s still out there. And as we near the two-year anniversary of the Veterans Affair wait times scandal, it’s worth looking at how the department has - or has not - remedied the mess.
"Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Monday compared the length of time veterans wait to receive health care at the VA to the length of time people wait for rides at Disneyland, and said his agency shouldn’t use wait times as a measure of success because Disney doesn’t either," the Washington Examiner reported last week.
When you got 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?" McDonald said Monday during breakfast meeting with reporters. "And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."
He did apologize later, in a statement released to the media: "If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don’t take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was never my intention to suggest that I don’t take our mission of serving veterans very seriously."
But does he? If he does, the facts don’t reflect that.
"Two years ago, Americans were horrified to learn that as many as 1,000 of our nation’s veterans had died while waiting for medical care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities," reports Adam Andrzejewski of the government watchdog group Openthebooks.com, writing in Forbes magazine. "Today, nearly half a million veterans still wait to see a VA doctor. According to USA Today, more than 480,000 veterans were waiting more than 30 days for an appointment."
His agency found that "while long wait times persisted, the VA added 39,454 new positions to their payroll between 2012 and 2015... Fewer than 1 in 11 of these new positions (3,591) were ‘Medical Officers,’ i.e. doctors. Sick veterans can’t get an appointment, because there just aren’t enough doctors."
Yet during this time, the VA awarded its own employees nearly $100 billion in bonuses.
"Employees in seven out of ten VA facilities ‘cooked the books’ in order to collect tens of millions of dollars in performance bonuses by showing no wait times for appointments," Andrzejewski writes. "Meanwhile, sick veterans were placed on secret wait-lists and many died awaiting care."
There were no criminal charges filed against anyone, and only eight employees total were fired. Bonuses continued.
"Not only were ill-gotten bonuses never clawed back, new bonus rules were instituted allowing many of the same employees and administrators to continue to ‘earn’ bonuses," he writes.
McDonald’s blunder wasn’t just a poor choice of words, it was indicative of a mindset miles from where our veterans are waiting for medical, and in many cases, dying. This isn’t the Magic Kingdom.
As Andrzejewski points out, "It’s time for the VA to deal with reality, embrace reform and produce results. Our nation’s veterans deserve better."