JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – When Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald compared wait times at the embattled Veterans’ Administration hospitals where veterans wait sometimes months or years for care with wait times for rides at Disneyland Monday, it struck a nerve with basically everybody.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?” McDonald said. “What’s important is what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
Several politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized McDonald. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Florida, both criticized him, as did Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri.
“Comparing people waiting in line at a theme park to veterans being forced to wait for medical care shows how out of touch Secretary McDonald is,” Rep. Graves said. “It also unfortunately shows that he’s still not taking the situation seriously. These wait times are a matter of life and death for people who’ve risked their lives to serve this country, and the lack of respect for veterans coming out of this administration is disgraceful.”
Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt went a step further and called for McDonald’s resignation.
Secretary of State Jason Kander, the Democratic candidate vying for Blunt’s U.S. Senate seat, agreed that while McDonald clearly erred, Blunt was posturing for political points.
“Secretary McDonald made a dumb comment, but Sen. Blunt’s record of cutting veterans benefits, then using veterans as props in his press conferences doesn’t make him the voice of authority here,” Kander said in a statement. “The St. Louis VA has been without a director for nearly three years and has been set back because of it. So Sen. Blunt of all people should know another resignation at the VA will likely only make things worse.”
The Blunt re-election campaign responded that Kander himself was merely using Blunt’s words as a political point and that it proved Kander was “out of touch.”
“His first impulse is to toe the line for the Obama Administration and protect the very people who have presided over a disturbing decline in care for our nation’s heroes,” Jack Jackson, the co-chair of Blunt’s veterans coalition, said in a statement. “And now Jason Kander calls these heroes ‘props’ as if they are unable to think for themselves. It’s disappointing, but I am not surprised; when given the chance, Kander puts politics over real reform for the VA.”
The race for Blunt’s Senate seat has featured its fair share of attacks between the Kander and Blunt camps, and it shows little sign of stopping as the election gets closer.
Updated – 12:02 p.m. May 25, 2016: Clarified the identity of Blunt campaign spokesperson.