VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, Can Wait in the Unemployment Line


Robert_A._McDonald_Official_Portrait

What a fucking bad answer from VA Secretary Robert McDonald when asked about how long veterans have to wait to get service at VA medical facilities.

At a Monitor-hosted breakfast with reporters in the lead up to Memorial Day, the Secretary was questioned about why the VA does not publicly report when veterans first ask for an appointment, known as the “create date.” The information can be used to calculate how long vets had to wait for an appointment.

“The days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring. What we should be measuring is the Veteran’s satisfaction,” McDonald said. “What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA? When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What is important is, what is your satisfaction with the experience.”  Really,  tell that to the people that have been dying while waiting for an appointment.  They are in that line to see a medical professional not fucking Mickey Mouse!

The Secretary added, “what I would like to move to actually is that kind of measure. We are in the process of creating that kind of measure, validating that kind of measure.”’

How fucked up is that? Let me count the ways …

  1. Disney theme parks and their management are absolutely interested in line waits — both at individual rides (hence the big monitors and signs, not to mention queue attractions to make those waits seem less onerous, not to mention the whole idea of FastPass, etc.) and as a factor in how folk enjoyed themselves (and are likely to come back).  Does Disney poll people about overall satisfaction? Absolutely. Do they stop there? No, they ask about food, rides, cleanliness of the parks, helpfulness of the cast members, and, yes, line waits. It’s not the only thing they keep track of, but it’s considered a key component.
  2. “Yeah, but, Todd, if the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” No, wait, that was a response to a bad Disneyland analogy in Jurassic Park.  But the principle applies. Waiting in a long queue at Disneyland is an inconvenience. It’s chewing up valuable time to do other things, it may mean standing in the sun, and it may mean getting bored. It does not mean enduring continuing health problems, or watching those problems get worse. There is an actual pain and suffering aspect to long wait times at the VA.  By making this stupid analogy, it’s trivializing that pain and suffering. “Jeez, you whiny vets are just like kids who have to stand in line at Disneyland. You still had a good time, right?” It’s bad analogizing, bad service, and shitty politics.
  3. Measuring overall satisfaction is a great idea. Stopping there is idiotic, because you’ll have no idea of how to increase overall satisfaction if you don’t know the components that were satisfying or dissatisfying.  But let’s say you ask, and people say, “Yeah, the wait time was long.” Well, how long was it? Are you going to trust the memories of the folk complaining? Is that useful data?  Well, no, you should be able to track how long it actually took. Does the VA actually have that data? Well, per the VA  they don’t report publicly on it. That means either they don’t have it (which is dumb), or the data looks really, really bad. Trying to spin that as “Well, it’s not important” is being just plain silly. Especially if you then throw around average wait time numbers and admit there are variations by facility and region. It comes across as we are hiding something, please go away and stop asking us.

McDonald has been touted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton. If so, this answer should disqualify him, either per se, or for how it’s going to play in the inevitable sound bite ads using it against him.

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