Speaker Ryan on VA Secretary: 'I Don't Know If He Should Resign'

Susan Jones | May 24, 2016 | 10:43am EDT
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(CNSNews.com) - House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday stopped short of calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to resign over his comments comparing wait times at VA clinics to wait times at amusement parks.

A reporter told Ryan that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is calling on McDonald to resign. "Do you think it goes to that level, that he should resign?" the reporter asked Ryan.

"I don't know if he should resign. He should clarify his comments," Ryan said. "He should show some empathy for our veterans that he's supposed to serve. This really is just beyond the pale, a comment like this. It just shows kind of the arrogance of the federal bureaucracy.

"That's why we're working so hard up here to pass veterans legislation, to pass veterans funding."

Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Monday, McDonald said the VA should not use wait times for appointments as a measure of success:

"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 said. "And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure."

Ryan, in a formal statement issued prior to his news conference, noted that "veterans have died waiting in line for health care at VA facilities."

On Tuesday, Ryan told reporters that congressional investigations had uncovered "this fiasco" at the Veterans Administration in the first place.

"And ...these kinds of disgusting comments that show you do not have the proper empathy needs to be addressed. And I don't know how he's going to fix it, but he needs to fix it."

Ryan said nothing about calling McDonald before Congress to explain his remarks.

In a statement on his website, Sen. Blunt said McDonald should resign "because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.”

Delivering the Republican radio address on Saturday, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) noted that two years have passed since former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki "resigned amid a series of scandals," including long wait times for appointments.

"But problems have not been fixed," Bilirakis said. "Despite receiving more funding, the VA is still taking too long to process claims. Wait times are actually worse.

"Despite receiving more authority to clean up the bureaucracy, the VA has held almost no one accountable for manipulating wait times. Meanwhile, some of the same people responsible for these problems received bonuses as if nothing happened. That’s unacceptable as far as I’m concerned."

Bilirakis noted that in recent months, the House and Senate have been working on reforms to boost accountability and improve care.

Just last week, the House passed a veterans funding bill that would force the VA to improve its use of electronic health records; add hundreds of new employees to tackle claims appeals; and prohibit bonuses for all VA senior managers.

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