House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., blasted VA Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal’s management, but did not expressly call for his resignation.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., blasted VA Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal’s management, but did not expressly call for his resignation. Bill Clark / Getty Images

House GOP official bashes VA leader for ‘budgetary mismanagement’

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost’s letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough takes the leader of the Veterans Health Administration to task over recent hiring restrictions within the department and controversial but since-rescinded bonus payments.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday excoriated the head of the Veterans Health Administration, though he stopped short of demanding the Biden administration replace the embattled executive.

In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., expressed his displeasure with VA Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal’s management of the Veterans Health Administration, accusing him of “poor judgment” and incompetence.

Bost’s letter, which stops short of calling for Elnahal’s ouster, is comprised of a litany of complaints, from the scandalous to the mundane. He attributes VA’s recent restricted hiring posture to Elnahal, and continued to criticize his role in the controversial doling out of millions of dollars in bonus payments to departmental executives. The department rescinded those bonus payments last fall.

“Dr. Elnahal allowed these bonus payments to occur without informing you, without adequately following relevant VA policy and without adhering to the law,” Bost said. “I know you agree this is clearly unacceptable. Dr. Elnahal’s comments to the VA Office of Inspector General during its [critical skill incentive] bonus payment investigation were equally concerning. Throughout his comments, Dr. Elnahal made clear his lack of knowledge of the basic inner workings of the administration he is tasked with leading, including no awareness of the number of CSI bonus payments to senior executives he approved.”

Bost also alleged that VHA facilities’ performance and working conditions have both worsened during Elnahal’s tenure.

“On Dr. Elnahal’s watch, the management, standard of care and work environment has allegedly deteriorated at health systems throughout VHA, most alarmingly the Loma Linda Health Care System, the Hampton Virginia Health Care System and the Eastern Colorado Health Care System,” Bost wrote. “Ineffective leadership at the top has undermined the confidence of veterans and employees, and we are seeing its ripple effects throughout the organization.”

The letter also takes time to criticize Elnahal for allegedly “agreeing” with a controversial memo requesting facilities remove a famous photograph of an American sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945 because the image “depicts a non-consensual act.” The memo briefly raised the hackles of conservatives on social media before McDonough posted on Twitter that the photo would remain at VA facilities.

“In your June 13, 2024 letter to me on this topic, you admitted the memorandum should not have been issued, VHA made this decision without your knowledge or approval and that you rescinded the memorandum immediately," Bost wrote. “As leader of VHA, Dr. Elnahal should have been aware and astute enough to realize the memo was problematic. Additionally, Dr. Elnahal should have confirmed the memorandum, which would have constituted a significant policy decision if implemented, went through the appropriate review process.”

In a statement, VA spokesman Terrence Hayes defended Elnahal's performance at VHA.

“VA is delivering more care to more veterans than ever before, and our focus remains on providing timely, high-quality care to the veterans we serve," Hayes said. "Dr. Elnahal is critical in helping us perform this mission. We have received Chairman Bost’s letter and will respond directly.”