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If VA Hospitals Were Theme Parks, No One Would Die While Waiting


“Magical,” “top quality,” “fun,” “exciting.” These are just a few adjectives from Disney World reviews online. The vast majority of Disney World and Disneyland’s customers are satisfied—even highly entertained—regardless of their ride wait times (which Disney actually does monitor, and lets customers view on mobile applications).

It only takes a semi-rational person to understand how ridiculous it is to compare a theme park to a government-run health-care system. Unfortunately, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald lost his grip on rationality while uttering this to reporters over breakfast Monday in response to a federal report dinging the agency’s poor service: “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?”

McDonald is most likely referring to the surveys of VA clinic patients about their level of satisfaction with their care, surveys the VA itself funded and carried out. He also failed to mention that those surveys are only handed out to patients who were actually able to obtain care at a VA facility.

The VA Is a Roller Coaster, Alright

Let’s just pretend for a moment that Veterans Affairs hospitals are amusement parks—just for the sake of the argument. Let’s pretend Disneyland was suffering from the same long wait lists that veterans in the VA system experience. Would it be “amusing” if you could not seem to buy tickets or get into Disney World in a timely manner?

How would you feel about a theme park that canceled your entry without letting you know until you showed up?

How would you feel about a theme park that canceled your entry without letting you know until you showed up? I can tell you from experience that neither “magical” nor “fun” describe this situation. The VA clinic that did this to me didn’t even have a reaction camera to capture the look of pure disdain on my face during the emotional roller coaster I was riding.

How enchanting does McDonald think it is for someone to call the VA suicide hotline only to be sent to voicemail? This has happened to multiple veterans—one of whom took his own life shortly after no one answered his call. Is McDonald even aware that approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day? I have not been to Disney World since I was about four years old. But I do not recall the rides making anyone want to commit suicide. I mean, maybe the “It’s a Small World” attraction would if you were stuck in there for days. It is highly doubtful you would burn yourself alive right outside of it, as one veteran did at a VA facility in New Jersey.

Death by Negligence? Also Not a Feature of Disney World

If you are a veteran assigned to the VA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, you could be exposed to the Legionnaires attraction by drinking water from their outdated and contaminated water system! For some lucky patients, Legionnaires disease has gone untreated and proven fatal. It could have been cured by antibiotics. But apparently regular safety checks are strictly optional at VA clinics. The VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, offers you a chance to die in line! Who wants medical care anyway? Besides, one can’t even complain about the health care one has never received if one is dead.

Does the VA offer mobile apps to let veterans know about wait times for each of their medical needs? No.

Recently, the Veterans Affairs hospital on Long Island discovered black air particles in its facility. Sadly, they were forced to close some operating rooms, so patients won’t be enjoying those amenities for a while. This was due to outdated building components in the air duct system. This seems to be a trend. Meanwhile, over at Disney, they’re regularly adding new and improved attractions.

Does the VA offer mobile apps to let veterans know about wait times for each of their medical needs? No. Veterans will find themselves exhausted, confused, and impatient as they wait in a probably uncomfortable waiting room chair.

There have been several deaths at Disney theme parks since 1955. But most of them resulted from visitors disregarding safety standards, and not from the negligence of Disney employees or the company itself. The numbers do not compare to the untold number of deaths that have resulted from the substandard or non-existent care that Veterans Affairs patients have received. While Congress and major news organizations have now spent two years exposing decades of shocking Veterans Affairs negligence, nothing similar has ever occurred in relation to Disney. To suggest an equivalence between the two is horrifically callous and ignorant.

Wait Times Are Just a Symptom

While the entertainment giant has done its best to ensure guests’ safety and contentment, the VA remains plagued with the same problems it has had for decades—even after the resignation of former Secretary Eric Shinseki. It is obvious that the difficulties are not small or even curable, since the problem lies in the VA system’s structure.

The VA is operated by government, otherwise known as the most inefficient entity on the planet. Nevertheless, the issues have existed from the outset, and only within the past two years were they were thrust into the national spotlight. Congress and the president vowed to make life-saving changes, yet problems persist. However, Congress did make a minimal effort, allowing veterans to opt for private care under certain circumstances if they cannot get a timely appointment in their VA clinic.

The Department of Veterans Affairs refuses to fix the problems ingrained in their downright awful system. None of their “attractions” could be described as “magical,” “amusing,” or “fun.” They have proven that they have to rely on the private sector to pick up the slack. This is the same private sector that Disney’s theme parks belong to, which is driven by consumer demand. A government agency does not have that drive, because it will always exist regardless of a satisfied and healthy patient base.

But veterans should not be condemned to substandard, even deadly “care” because Congress chooses to keep them trapped in a government-run system.