Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologized to veterans Tuesday following a public outcry over his comparison of long waiting times at veterans’ medical centers to the lines for rides at Disneyland.
“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,” he said in a statement. “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,” McDonald added.
During a roundtable discussion with reporters Monday, McDonald had said that veterans’ satisfaction with the health care experience was more important than the wait times they endured. Lawmakers lashed out in letters, official statements and social media.
By Tuesday morning, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., began publicly prodding McDonald to resign.
“Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said in a statement. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.”
McDonald said reducing those wait times had remained his number one priority since he took over the Department of Veterans Affairs in July 2014. The department has “worked tirelessly to improve the timeliness of the care and benefits” that it provides to veterans, he said.
President Barack Obama tapped McDonald to lead the department after Eric Shinseki resigned over a veterans claim-backlog scandal.
“It’s important that our veterans receive first-rate care in a timely manner, and we must do everything possible to make sure that happens,” Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., said Tuesday. “Secretary McDonald should be more aware of the impact his comments may have on veterans and their families.”