Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is overruling plans to ban the famous Times Square kiss photo marking the end of World War II from all department health care facilities, a move criticized as political correctness run amok.

The ban was announced internally at VA medical facilities late last month in a memo from RimaAnn Nelson, the Veterans Health Administration’s top operations official. Employees were instructed to “promptly” remove any depictions of the famous photo and replace it with imagery deemed more appropriate.

“The photograph, which depicts a non-consensual act, is inconsistent with the VA’s no-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and assault,” the memo stated.

“To foster a more trauma-informed environment that promotes the psychological safety of our employees and the veterans we serve, photographs depicting the ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ should be removed from all Veterans Health Administration facilities.”

The memo garnered public scrutiny after it was posted online by the X account EndWokeness on Tuesday.

Just hours later, McDonough took to social media to reverse the memo.

“This image is not banned from VA facilities — and we will keep it in VA facilities,” said a post from his official X account. Department officials echoed in a separate statement that “VA will NOT be banning this photo from VA facilities.”

Officials said the memo should not have been sent out and was formally rescinded on Tuesday. They did not provide details of whether senior leaders were consulted on the matter ahead of Nelson’s memo.

The photograph was taken by journalist Alfred Eisenstaedt in New York City on Aug. 14, 1945, as Americans celebrated Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. Other journalists, including military reporters, also captured the moment.

The shot shows a U.S. sailor grabbing and kissing a woman he did not know amid a joyous, party atmosphere in Times Square. The identities of the individuals in the photo have been disputed over the years.

In her memo, Nelson noted that use of the photo in VA facilities “was initially intended to celebrate and commemorate the end of World War II and the triumphant return of American soldiers. However, perspectives on historical events and their representations evolve.”

Nelson wrote that the non-consensual nature of the kiss and “debates on consent and the appropriateness of celebrating such images” led to the decision. Senior leaders did not provide an explanation for the reversal.

VA officials could not provide details on how many facilities are currently displaying the photo and whether veterans have complained about use of the image.

McDonough has made veterans outreach and inclusion key priorities for the department over the last three years, including rewriting the VA motto with gender-neutral language.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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