- Written by Holly Honderich
- in washington
The Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been transferred to the deputy secretary of defense while he is hospitalized with a “bladder emergency.”
Austin, 70, is in the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Virginia.
Officials said it was not immediately clear how long he would be hospitalized.
The defense secretary had come under intense scrutiny for not disclosing his prostate cancer diagnosis and hospitalizations in December and January.
On Sunday afternoon, the Pentagon issued a statement saying Mr. Austin was taken to Walter Reed Hospital for treatment, adding that the White House and senior defense officials had been notified.
Hours later, around 4:55 p.m. local time (9:55 p.m. Japan time), the Pentagon said for a second time that Mr. Austin had “transferred the functions and duties of his office” to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. issued a statement.
The hospital provided an update late Sunday, saying that as a result of tests, the secretary was admitted to the critical care unit “for supportive care and close monitoring.”
Doctors said the bladder problem would not change Mr Austin’s “expected full recovery” after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December. “His cancer prognosis remains good.”
Mr. Austin was scheduled to head to Brussels this week for Wednesday’s meeting on the ongoing war in Ukraine. It is not yet clear whether his hospitalization will interfere with those plans.
Late last year, Austin underwent surgery as part of his cancer treatment.
He was readmitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day with severe pain in his legs, lower back and abdomen due to complications related to the surgery. Tests revealed a urinary tract infection and he was hospitalized for more than two weeks.
Senior defense officials and the Biden administration didn’t know Austin was seriously ill until three days after he was readmitted to the hospital in January.
Mr. Austin said at a news conference last week that he had never instructed any of his staff to hide the length of his hospitalization from the White House or the public, but responded to questions about whether staff members had acted against Mr. Austin’s orders. didn’t answer.
Still, the defense secretary said he “deeply regrets” the failure to provide proper notice and has personally apologized to President Joe Biden.
“I didn’t handle this correctly,” he said. “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis.”
The Secretary of Defense ranks immediately below the president in the U.S. military chain of command and is considered one of the most important members of the Cabinet.
The incident raised concerns about both transparency and safety, and led to three separate investigations into the handling of Mr Austin’s illness and hospitalization. Some prominent Republicans called for Mr. Austin to be removed from office.
President Biden endorsed Austin and said he remained confident in the secretary’s leadership, but added that Austin’s failure to disclose the seriousness of his illness was “suboptimal.”
He is scheduled to testify before Congress later this month about his failure to notify government leaders.
Austin, a retired four-star general, became the first African-American secretary of defense in 2020.