Well, kinda, anyway. Robert McDonald may have thought he was just offering a goofy look at the VA’s endemic failures, but Ted Cruz wants everyone to know what a Mickey Mouse job McDonald has done. Fresh off his failed presidential bid, Cruz has launched a petition drive to demand the VA Secretary’s resignation. Travis Tritten reports for Stars and Stripes on Cruz’ new crusade to highlight the “deep corruption” in the VA after McDonald’s ill-considered Disney analogy that shrugged off long wait times in favor of evaluating the “overall experience.” However, the “petition” drive isn’t exactly focused on that change:
Former presidential candidate Ted Cruz began a petition Wednesday calling on Bob McDonald to resign despite a public apology from the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary for comparing the wait for veterans’ health care to the lines for Disney amusement-park rides.
The Republican senator from Texas, who put the petition on his election campaign website, said McDonald’s comments show a “fundamental lack of respect” for the millions of veterans who seek care at the department’s nationwide network of hospitals and clinics.
The VA secretary caused a firestorm of criticism on Capitol Hill and was forced to apologize late Tuesday after downplaying the VA’s need to focus on how long veterans must wait to receive treatment. He cited Disney’s focus on overall visitor satisfaction as a better model for the problem-plagued department.
“At this point, there can be no doubt there is a deep corruption within the VA, and we should not rest until it is rooted out, and our heroes receive the care that they earned,” Cruz said in a statement. “Secretary McDonald’s recent comments make clear that he is not the man to ensure that happens and as a result he should resign.”
The petition is more of a statement at an entry point to Cruz’ campaign website, which has now been transformed into a Senate re-election effort. It asks for an e-mail address and a zip code, which seems a little more oriented to building an e-mail list than a petition, which would normally include a field for a name. The e-mailed response to the entry doesn’t even mention the VA:
That’s sloppy work. It shouldn’t be that difficult to set up a separate automated response message to the VA petition. Still, Cruz has added his name to others seeking McDonald’s ouster, and he’s right to do so. McDonald has had two years to at least start working on solutions at the VA, and other than issue a lot of blustering statements about phantom firings, nothing much has changed.
As I write in my column today for The Week, the real problem with McDonald’s remarks isn’t the Disney analogy — it’s the fact that McDonald has given up on fixing the problems. And in large part, that’s because the system itself is the biggest obstacle to timely and effective care:
McDonald’s remarks amount to a white flag of surrender on veterans care at the VA. After years of increasing concern and anger at long wait times and unresponsive bureaucracy at the VA, McDonald wants everyone to just shrug it off. Rather than fix the problem, McDonald wants to stop measuring the failures, leaving veterans locked into a system it takes weeks and months to even access.
The inevitable demands for McDonald’s resignation mostly focus on his Disney analogy. But this misses the larger point. McDonald shouldn’t resign because he made a terrible analogy that trivialized the risks that veterans face in a corrupt and hidebound VA bureaucracy. McDonald should resign because he clearly cares more about protecting the VA bureaucracy than he does about veterans.
However, another resignation and appointment won’t solve the problems that ended up co-opting McDonald and his attempts to reform the VA. Those problems exist as part of the single-payer system itself, where most veterans have no real choice of providers and only access care through the whims of bureaucrats. These wait times simply do not exist in the private sector, even at HMOs, where competition and demand creates a more dynamic environment of providers and insurers. The real solution to the long-standing crisis at the VA is not just another figurehead at the top of a closed system, but the elimination of the closed system itself by providing veterans with coverage that allows real choice of providers, with VA facilities being one of several options on the table.
Democrats shriek about the evils of privatization whenever this reform is proposed. And so we have spent the last several years pursuing their preferred path of changing nameplates on the same desks, promising improvement but inevitably delivering nothing but lip service and failure. It’s time to address the systemic flaws within the VA system.
Until we change the underlying fundamental flaw of the single-payer system, the VA will end up being an F-ticket ride* for veterans … with the F standing for failure, and too often fatal.
* – I grew up almost literally in the shadow of Disneyland. As a young adult, I lived under the nightly fireworks that rattled the windows in my apartment. As a child, we went so often that we routinely had books of ride tickets with unused coupons laying around the house, which Disneyland phased out in place of all-inclusive entry fees decades ago. Almost all of the leftovers were the A and B tickets for the less-exciting rides in the amusement park, while having none of the most prized tickets – the Es, used for the best rides in the park. At one time, the phrase “a real E-ticket ride” denoted an exciting or perhaps frightening experience, and at the park itself also meant a long line to access the ride.
Thanks to Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald, we now have a new adage: a real F-ticket ride. The wait times for F-ticket rides are much longer, it’s the only ticket that veterans are allowed to get, and unlike at Disneyland, this ride actually kills people.