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SECDEF Austin back in hospital in critical care

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
February 12, 2024

Despite initial reports that he would maintain all duties while seeking medical care, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has transferred his duties to Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense, following his admittance to the critical care unit of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday.

According to a press release issued by Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, Austin was transported to the hospital after undisclosed symptoms suggested an “emergent bladder issue.”

Ryder stated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and Congress have all been notified of the hospitalization and delegation of duties. A follow-up press release issued by Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chestnut of the Center for Prostate Disease Research, Murtha Cancer Center, clarified that Austin had been transferred to the critical care unit for supportive care and monitoring after a battery of tests. While an anticipated discharge date was not provided, Austin is expected to make a full recovery, and his cancer prognosis “remains excellent.” 

This marks the second hospitalization of Austin in a month. In late January, Austin was readmitted due to complications arising from surgery related to a prostate cancer diagnosis. The Pentagon did not inform the White House or the public of his health status for several days, sparking a debate on transparency and the medical privacy rights of those who serve in critical government roles. At the time of his first hospitalization, Austin had not informed the White House that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

READ MORE: US Defense Secretary Austin apologizes for handling of cancer and hospitalization

Austin issued a public apology for this lack of transparency earlier this month, stating his future medical care would be disclosed.

“We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right. I should have told the President about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people,” Austin said, according to CNBC.

Austin also added that he now recognized he had missed an opportunity to be open and encourage other men to be proactive in their healthcare, stating, “I’m here with a clear message to other men, especially older men. Get screened. Get your regular checkups.” 

The Pentagon completed an internal review of the incident. According to Stars and Stripes, much of the report will remain classified.

“The review has been submitted to Secretary Austin and he is in the process of reviewing it,” Ryder said. “Much of the report is classified since it relates to continuity of operations. However, as the secretary has said, we remain committed to being as transparent as possible about the review and we’ll have more information once the secretary’s review is complete.”