Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on New Year's Day due to complications stemming from an elective medical procedure, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The Pentagon announced his hospitalization four days after Austin was initially admitted. Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, did not mention the hospitalization in a news conference Thursday.
The short statement did not provide details of the procedure or complications following the procedure, but said Austin was “recovering well.” Austin remained hospitalized as of Friday afternoon, but was expected to resume full duties later Friday, Rader told CNN. It is unclear when he will be released from the hospital.
Asked why the Pentagon waited four days to notify the public about Austin's hospitalization, Rader said: “This was an evolving situation where we had to take into account a number of other factors” including medical issues and personal privacy issues.
The Pentagon declined to say whether Austin was unconscious at any time during his hospitalization or whether he was in critical condition.
As defense secretary, Austin is one of the most critical members of the Biden administration's cabinet, and is the military's civilian leader, making him one of the most important roles in the national security establishment — especially as the U.S. military faces increasing tensions. In the Middle East.
Ryder said in the statement that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks “is prepared to act and exercise the powers of the secretary if necessary.”
Austin's hospitalization — and lack of recognition — comes as the United States faces a number of national security issues abroad, including attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East, U.S. Navy ships intercepting Houthi launches from Yemen, and wars in Ukraine and Gaza. .
While Austin was hospitalized, the United States carried out a strike in Baghdad against a pro-Iranian militia leader. Ryder said Austin gave permission for the hit before entering the hospital.
The failure to publicly announce Austin's hospitalization conflicts with previous precedent.
In a letter addressed to Rader and Chris Meagher, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the Pentagon Press Association expressed “outrage” at the failure to alert the public in a timely manner.
“It falls well below the normal disclosure standards followed by other federal departments when senior officials undergo medical procedures or become temporarily incapacitated,” the Pentagon Press Association wrote, requesting a meeting to discuss the situation. “The public has a right to know when members of the U.S. Cabinet are hospitalized, under anesthesia, or when duties are delegated as a result of any medical procedure. This has been the practice even down to the level of the President. As the nation’s top defense chief, Secretary Austin has no right to Request privacy in this situation.
When President Joe Biden was hospitalized for a routine colonoscopy in 2021, the White House announced in advance that it would briefly transfer power to Vice President Kamala Harris.
And when Marine Corps Commander Gen. Eric Smith He was hospitalized in late OctoberThe service notified the public within 24 hours that it had experienced a medical emergency that required immediate attention. The Marine Corps then listed the senior officer who would serve as acting commander in his absence. Within four days, the Marine Corps said Smith was making excellent progress after suffering sudden cardiac arrest.
Smith is scheduled to undergo surgery in the coming weeks, which will be followed by a period of rehabilitation. He said he intends to resume his normal duties.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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