VA Secretary under fire for comparison of long waits for veteran help, theme parks

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U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald (WLS)

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald is under fire for drawing an analogy Monday between waiting for an amusement park ride and waiting for treatment at a veterans administration hospital.

"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?" said McDonald during a breakfast with reporters.

Veterans and politicians said they are unamused with the remarks that suggest that Disney doesn't measure waiting times for amusement park guests and so the VA shouldn't be consumed by how long veterans have to wait for treatment.

Both groups said McDonald should care about quality and experience.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, chairman of a Senate subcommittee that approves funding for the VA, said McDonald should be embarrassed by such a statement. Although Kirk was an avid supporter of McDonald as a VA reformer, Kirk said McDonald needs to apologize.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan also angry-tweeted "This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines."

Among those who have died was suburban Chicago Army veteran Tom Young. An I-Team investigation uncovered that Young had asked the VA for help on four occasions, but only received phone calls back after he was dead.

Young, 30, died while waiting for VA help on July 23, 2015. He was struck and killed by a Metra train headed to the northwest suburbs -- one of the 22 suicides per day of American veterans.

"He took his life and the day after, we got a call from the VA that a bed was available and then about 20 minutes later, we got a call from the suicide hotline returning his call," said Will Young, the brother of Tom Young.

Young had apparently called the VA's suicide hotline, leaving a message that he needed help. Someone from the hotline called him back a day later, after he had put himself in the path of the Metra train.

Even Disney, the parent company of ABC7, is perturbed by McDonald's statements. A spokesperson told the Independent Journal Review that his statements are untrue, because Disney cares both about wait times and making the waiting as pleasant as possible.
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