Missouri Sen. Blunt calls on VA secretary to resign

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A Republican senator on Tuesday called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to resign after McDonald compared long wait times at VA health care sites to waiting in line at a Disney amusement park.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said McDonald’s “preposterous statement is right out of Never Neverland” and said the VA leader has shown he cannot ensure that veterans receive health care 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,” Blunt said.

McDonald said Monday that the VA should not use wait times as a measure of success, comparing waits for VA health care to the hours people wait for rides at Disney theme parks. McDonald said a veterans’ health-care experience was more important than the time spend waiting for an appointment.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called McDonald’s comments “disgusting and beyond the pale,” although he stopped short of calling for McDonald to step down.

“This is not make-believe. This is not Disneyland, or Wonderland, for that matter,” Ryan told reporters. “Veterans have died waiting in line for their care.”

McDonald told MSNBC Tuesday that his job is “to improve the veteran experience” and “get more veterans in for care.”

“You know, wait times are important, but they’re not the only measure of veteran experience,” he told host Andrea Mitchell. “And that’s what veterans are telling us. … If I was misunderstood or if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington state, a member of the Republican leadership, said McDonald’s comments were hard to believe. “When you go to Disneyland, you aren’t wondering if you are going to live long enough to make it to Space Mountain,” she said.

Republicans said McDonald’s comments were especially egregious since he took office in 2014 after his predecessor was forced out amid a scandal over chronically long wait times at VA health care sites and reports that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Similar problems were discovered at VA health sites nationwide, along with a widespread practice among VA employees of creating secret lists to cover up the long wait times and receive VA bonuses.

McDonald should clarify his comments and “show some empathy for our veterans that he is supposed to serve,” Ryan said.

Democrats called Blunt’s comment a blatant bid to boost his re-election chances.

“Senator Blunt of all people should know another resignation at the VA will likely only make things worse,” said Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Blunt’s likely Democratic challenger.

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