VA Secretary Reverses Removal of Iconic WWII Photo from Facilities Thanks to Elon Musk’s Twitter/X

National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This week, social media proved its utility thanks to a viral Veterans Affairs memo published on the site X by a popular account known for exposing woke ideology in government. The memo called for the removal of the iconic World War II photo of a sailor celebrating V-Day by kissing a nurse in Times Square.

The memo demanded VA facilities remove the photo and replace it with something more in line with the organization’s values. Why? Because the photo was allegedly against the VA’s zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment. Unfortunately, the memo was allegedly never cleared by VA Secretary Denis McDonough, who apparently first heard about the memo via viral social media posts.

Secretary McDonough made clear that he did not approve the memo, nor would the photo be taken down from any facility. However, questions still linger as to why anyone thought the memo was a good idea in the first place and whether those who facilitated its creation will be held accountable.

Trauma-inducing iconic WWII photo?

In a memo signed by Assistant Undersecretary for Health and Operations, RimaAnn Nelson, VA facilities were instructed to remove the famous photo that shows a sailor kissing a nurse in celebration. According to the memo, the photo exhibits “inappropriate behavior” and depicts a “non-consensual act.”

Ms. Nelson wrote that displaying the photo in VA facilities:

“…could be construed as a tacit endorsement of the inappropriate behavior it depicts.”

The memo goes on to claim that:

“Employees have expressed discomfort with the display of this photograph.”

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Ms. Nelson continues to instruct the facilities to remove the photo in order to:

“…foster a more trauma-informed environment.”

Nothing to see here

Once the memo went viral on X, VA Secretary Denis McDonough reversed the ban on the photograph, stating that the photo would remain in VA facilities. He wrote in no uncertain terms:

“Let me be clear: This image is not banned from VA facilities, and we will keep it in VA facilities.”

In response to calls to fire Ms. Nelson, Secretary McDonough wrote:

“Rima has dedicated her career to serving veterans. We are fortunate to have her at VA, and she will remain at VA.”

Ms. Nelson does indeed have a long employment history with the VA. And this isn’t the first time her abilities to perform her duties have been questioned. In 2016, Congresswoman Krysten Sinema and Congressman Matt Salmon asked then-President Barack Obama to block Ms. Nelson’s appointment at the then-beleaguered Phoenix, Arizona, VA hospital.

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Their reasoning was due to her track record at her prior location in St. Louis. They wrote to President Obama:

“Under Ms. Nelson’s tenure, the St. Louis hospital closed twice for unsafe and unsanitary conditions and was ranked last in the country for patient satisfaction out of 126 VA medical centers.”

However, their request was not granted, and here Ms. Nelson is having climbed the VA ladder, having her abilities questioned, and still protected from any accountability.

The wrong focus

This isn’t the first time the VA has made a decision based on woke ideology to try to erase history. Last year, the VA updated its motto to make it more gender-neutral after already updating it to include women.

The original VA motto was from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. He declared it was this nation’s solemn responsibility to:

“care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

The VA updated that motto to include women veterans like myself, changing it to:

“fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”

As if adding the second caveat that women like myself now also serve our nation wasn’t enough, the VA went another step by changing the motto to:

“fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

Removing the quote doesn’t make me feel more included as a class of veterans. It insults my intelligence that I can’t make the mental leap that during President Lincoln’s time, only men served in battle. Now the nation has evolved to allow women like myself to serve in battle.

VA failures

Furthermore, thanks to the actual quote and belief that President Lincoln had that the nation has an obligation to care for those who have “borne the battle,” veterans like myself have healthcare options and other entitlements. I’ll leave you with a few current statistics:

  • In 2023, veteran homelessness increased by 7.4%
  • On a single night in January of 2023, there were 35,574 homeless veterans
  • 17 veterans commit suicide every day
  • An electronic health records issue could cause 250,000 veterans to receive the wrong medication from VA hospitals

I don’t get my medical care from a VA hospital. Not because of a WWII photo but because I don’t trust that they will adhere to their solemn promise to care for me, and could possibly make me worse. Perhaps it’s time to focus on care for veterans as opposed to imagined trauma inducing photos.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts… More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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