OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been admitted to a critical care unit and has transferred his duties and authorities to a deputy, the Pentagon said Sunday afternoon.
According to the Defense Department, Austin is being treated for “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“The Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been notified. Additionally, White House and Congressional notifications have occurred,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement.
Austin was taken to the hospital around 2:20 p.m., the statement added.
In a second statement issued around 4:55 p.m., Ryder said that Austin, 70, had “transferred the functions and duties” of his office to the deputy defense secretary, Kathleen H. Hicks.
The New York Times added:
Another statement, issued late Sunday by two senior doctors at Walter Reed, said that Mr. Austin had been admitted to the hospital’s critical care unit that night after a series of tests. The doctors, John Maddox and Gregory Chesnut, said it was not clear how long he would be hospitalized.
Last month, Mr. Austin spent several days at Walter Reed being treated for complications related to a recent prostate cancer surgery. The doctors said in their statement on Sunday that his bladder issue “is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery” and that his cancer prognosis remained excellent.
President Joe Biden’s Pentagon came under intense scrutiny after it was announced that neither the president nor the media were informed last month that Austin had been hospitalized.
The 70-year-old was initially reported to be in the ICU after complications from an elective procedure, the Pentagon announced days after it happened, which drew the ire of the media.
“We are writing to express our significant concerns about the Defense Department’s failure to notify the public and the media about Secretary Lloyd Austin’s current hospitalization,” the Pentagon Press Association said in a letter shared with everyone this weekend after the administration hid Austin’s hospitalization. “The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late on a Friday evening is an outrage.”
The letter came after Ryder had issued a press release announcing the Austin’s condition.
“On the evening of January 1, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” it said. “He is recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today. At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required.”
That set off a firestorm in the media, where reporters were incensed that such a massive piece of news was hidden.
“First, all best wishes to Secretary Austin for his recovery and good health. And clearly there was a desire for patient privacy however…” CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said to start a series of tweets.
“The lack of disclosure that Sec Def was ill is a huge strategic failure. As of tonight I do not see a way forward for believing the Pentagon tells the truth on anything. Reporters are always skeptics but this goes far and deep beyond that always professional skepticism,” she said.
“And yeah I have covered every Sec Def since Cheney. Always skeptical. But this is now a fundamental change in a DOD that claims it supports the press with disclosure and truthfulness. And again very best wishes to Sec Austin for his recovery,” she said.
“The Pentagon waited four days to disclose that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was admitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day. That delay is unacceptable, especially given his crucial position in the national security establishment and world events,” CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann added.