VA Secretary’s Disney Comments Create a Firestorm

VA Secretary Robert McDonald set off a political firestorm this week when he made comments comparing the wait times at VA hospitals to those at lines for rides at Disney World. Lawmakers are coming out of the woodwork condemning the remarks. Should McDonald resign or is the controversy overblown?

It’s not often that the head of a federal agency draws tremendous public attention when speaking, but Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has managed to do just that this week. Unfortunately for McDonald, the attention hasn’t exactly been positive.

He has created a political firestorm when he made comments comparing wait times at the VA to the wait times at lines for rides at Disney World.

On Monday, 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?” McDonald said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Monday. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

Now, lawmakers are coming down hard on McDonald for his comments.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he was “dumbfounded” by the remarks and added that veterans have died waiting in line for care:

“Yesterday, when the VA Secretary compared the lines at his agency to the lines at an amusement park, we were dumbfounded. This is not make-believe. This is not Disneyland or Wonderland, for that matter. Veterans have died waiting in line for their care.

Clearly, the Secretary’s comments were not worthy of the veterans that he serves. But they were also indicative of a culture of indifference at the VA.”

And one Senator is even calling for McDonald’s resignation after making the remarks. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) said:

“Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land. 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.”

Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, had this to say about McDonald’s remarks:

“There is nothing amusing about VA’s performance over the past few years, and comparing VA wait times to those of an amusement park is just plain wrong. Wait times are of critical importance to the veterans waiting for VA medical care and they should be to Sec. Bob McDonald as well. In fact, the VA scandal over fraudulent wait times – in which department officials cooked the books in order to make excessive waits for medical care appear shorter – is precisely why McDonald is now VA secretary. Unfortunately, nearly two years after McDonald took over at VA, the department’s wait-time rhetoric doesn’t match up with the reality of veterans’ experiences.”

The Disney corporation has even weighed in on the situation, suggesting that McDonald’s remarks do not accurately reflect Disney’s position on waiting in lines. According to a Disney spokesperson:

“We take wait times very seriously. We continually push the boundaries to give our guests the best experience possible. A large team of highly trained industrial engineers are tasked with improving our guest’s experiences, from transportation, to guest flow, to ride comfort and certainly wait times.”

Other lawmakers have weighed in, but you get the idea. The remarks were not popular.

It’s unclear at this point if McDonald will be forced to step down from his position over the remarks, but one thing is quite clear: they certainly got everyone’s attention.

What is your opinion? Should the VA Secretary step down over his remarks, or is it much ado about nothing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.