VA Official Tries To Ban Historically Significant Photo

There is a history of controversy surrounding a Veterans Department official who, in a document that has since been revoked, demanded the removal of a famous photograph of a US Navy sailor kissing a woman on V-J Day in Times Square, New York.

On Victory over Japan Day, August 14, 1945, Alfred Eisenstaedt took a photo depicting a Navy man kissing a woman, a dental assistant dressed in a white uniform. Life magazine published the picture a week later.

Reports show the photo was ordered removed from all VA medical buildings last week by Assistant Under Secretary for Health Operations RimaAnn Nelson, who issued a memo to VA employees stating that the photo violates the department’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and assault.

Throughout her career at the VA, Nelson has been under investigation on many occasions.

Then-Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema and former Republican Rep. Matt Salmon were outraged by Nelson’s appointment to lead the Phoenix VA in 2016. Salmon wrote to then-President Obama, requesting that Obama reconsider Nelson’s appointment because of her background at the St. Louis VA hospital.

Between 2009 and 2013, when Nelson was in charge of the St. Louis VA hospital, reports surfaced of veterans being exposed to hepatitis and HIV. The lack of training on staff members to properly sterilize equipment was one of the findings of an inquiry. A whistleblower said that the unsanitary conditions led to the spread of illnesses. Reports show soldiers endured sitting in their excrement for days. Nelson received over $25,000 in rewards despite the well-documented issues at the institution.

Additionally, reports show that Nelson’s time as head of the Phoenix VA was controversial. Following Nelson’s hiring in 2016, the Phoenix facility was named one of the worst in 2017.

A VA spokesman said the Nelson’s memo regarding the photo has been retracted.  A declaration by VA Secretary Denis McDonough nullified the directive, saying the VA will maintain this picture at VA facilities.  It is not prohibited.

Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Representative Ryan Zinke of Wyoming were among the Republicans who sent a letter demanding that Nelson be fired. The letter asserts that this situation calls into question the credentials of several key executives at VHA and their role in the organization’s structure. This poorly thought-out strategy was somehow elevated to an operational priority at the VHA amid serious problems with recruiting and retention, employment freezes, and limited funding.