In 2014, Robert McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, was tapped to head the Department of Veterans Affairs after a series of Obama administration and independent investigations revealed widespread fraud and incompetence throughout the agency’s medical network that may have contributed to the deaths of veterans.
Roughly two years after one the worst scandals of the Obama presidency, which prompted then VA chief Eric Shinseki to resign in disgrace, McDonald could be on his way out as well.
McDonald, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, landed in hot water on Monday after he compared the wait times veterans sometimes have to endure to receive health care to the lines at Disneyland.
“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important?" McDonald asked during a breakfast Monday with reporters. "What's important is, what's your satisfaction with the experience?"
The tone-deaf remarks landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, where members from both sides of the aisle in Congress condemned McDonald’s comment. The manipulation of patient wait times was at the heart of the 2014 controversy that prompted lawmakers to pass a roughly $16 billion overhaul of the beleaguered VA.
On Tuesday, McDonald passed on the opportunity to apologize for his flippant remarks.
“If I was misunderstood, or if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to correct it,” McDonald said during an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who gave him multiple chances to walk back the gaffe.
“Look, we get it. Wait times are important. There’s no question wait times are important,” he said. “But there’s more to the veteran experience than just wait times.”
Hours after the MSNBC interview, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), the chamber’s first female combat veteran, called on him to resign immediately,
“Secretary McDonald’s dishonorable remarks yesterday make clear that he fails to take seriously the need for timely and quality care for our veterans. He blatantly dismissed the heart ache and pain that our veterans face while awaiting basic care, and illustrated his compete disregard for the incredibly serious issues facing the VA,” Ernst said in a statement.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) also called for McDonald’s resignation.
McDonald did make an effort to highlight the reforms that have taken place under his leadership, saying that average wait times are “three days for mental health, five days for primary care, and six days for specialty care.”
“Now we know that those are averages and that there are people on either end of the bell curve that we need to do a better job serving, and we're working hard to improve to do that,” he said. “The work's not done yet.”
"I'm a veteran, I have put my life in danger for this country," McDonald added. “Nothing drives me crazy more than our inability to provide timely care for them.”
After back-to-back days of putting his foot in his mouth, the VA chief should hope he can stick around long enough to see that care being provided.