Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Tammy Duckworth responded to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald’s comments Monday comparing VA wait times to those at Disney resorts.
Kirk said the secretary "should be embarrassed for making such a comparison" and Duckworth called the comments "tone-death and hurtful to American heroes."
“What really counts is, how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA," McDonald said in the controversial statement Monday. "When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
Kirk and Duckworth, both veterans, are locked in a tight race for Kirk’s U.S. Senate seat. Duckworth served in the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard, while Kirk served in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“The frustration, fear and helplessness our veterans feel waiting for months to get the health care they need is nothing compared to a day at Disneyland and the Secretary should be embarrassed for making such a comparison,” Kirk said in a statement Monday. “Their ‘satisfaction with the experience’ is substandard time and time again, like at Hines VA where food trays are served with cockroaches and rooms are covered in dangerous mold.”
Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost both her legs piloting a helicopter in Iraq, previously served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs in Hines and as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Our troops didn't make us wait before putting their lives at risk to keep us safe, and it is simply not acceptable for the VA to make them wait for the care they have earned," she said in a statement Monday. "As I urged when I sat down with him last week, the Secretary needs to comprehensively address the VA's systemic problems--and that means reducing wait times, improving care and increasing patient satisfaction.”
McDonald has since released a statement saying he regrets the remarks.
"It was never my intention to suggest that I don't take our mission of serving veterans very seriously," McDonald said in a written statement Tuesday. "If my comments Monday led any veterans to believe that I, or the dedicated workforce I am privileged to lead, don't take that noble mission seriously, I deeply regret that. Nothing could be further from the truth."