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US Defense Secretary Austin Hospitalized, Duties Transferred to Deputy


FILE - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at a Pentagon press briefing at the Pentagon, Feb. 1, 2024.
FILE - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at a Pentagon press briefing at the Pentagon, Feb. 1, 2024.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was taken to the Walter Reed military hospital Sunday for treatment of "symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue," a Pentagon spokesperson said.

“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 written statement.

Later, Ryder sent another statement, saying that around 5 p.m. Sunday, Austin had transferred “the functions and duties of the office" to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.

“The Deputy Secretary of Defense has assumed the functions and duties. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and Congress have been notified,” according to the statement.

Officials at Walter Reed Military Medical Center said Austin was admitted to the hospital’s critical care unit “for supportive care and close monitoring” after undergoing tests.

“At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized,” the officials said in a statement. “The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent.”

Ryder said an update on Austin’s condition would be provided as soon as possible.
Late last year, Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has been criticized for keeping secret his diagnosis, surgery and subsequent hospitalization with complications from the procedure.

On Feb. 1, Austin, 70, told The Associated Press that when he first was told the diagnosis, “The news shook me. ... Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private.”

“I want to be crystal clear: 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,” Austin said on Feb. 1. “I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”

Upon being diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier in December, he went to a hospital for a surgical procedure on Dec. 22. He worked the following week from home, The Associated Press reported.

Austin was readmitted Jan. 1, and spent two more weeks in the hospital after experiencing extreme pain and being admitted to the intensive care unit.

President Joe Biden and other key leaders were informed of Austin’s diagnosis more than a week after he’d been readmitted to the hospital.

Austin's lack of disclosure prompted changes in federal guidelines and triggered an internal Pentagon review and an inspector general review into his department’s notification procedures.

Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press.

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