Washington, D.C. – January 6, 2024
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, aged 70, has been hospitalized at “Walter Reed National Military Medical Center” since January 1, as confirmed by the Pentagon. The disclosure, made on Friday, followed days of silence regarding the nature of Austin’s medical condition.
According to Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, Austin was admitted for complications arising from a recent elective medical procedure. Ryder did not provide specific details but assured the public that Austin is “recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today.” The announcement did not specify when Austin might be discharged.
The delayed disclosure of Austin’s hospitalization comes amid increased tensions in the Middle East. Recent attacks on U.S. military facilities in Iraq and Syria, coupled with incidents involving ships in the region, have heightened concerns. A U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Thursday underscored the complexities faced by the Biden administration in managing instability in the region.
The announcement also revealed that Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks was prepared to exercise the powers of defense secretary during Austin’s medical treatment. Ryder clarified that Hicks had made routine decisions on Austin’s behalf, emphasizing that the deputy secretary is automatically authorized to perform the duties of the secretary if necessary.
Austin, known for his international travels, had recently returned from a trip to Israel and other Middle Eastern destinations in late December. The Pentagon did not provide details on the elective procedure Austin underwent or the specific complications that led to his hospitalization.
A senior defense official, speaking anonymously, declined to disclose further information about Austin’s medical situation but confirmed his alertness during recent U.S. military actions.
The delayed disclosure prompted frustration from the Pentagon Press Association, which criticized the department’s failure to inform the public promptly. The association requested a meeting with Pentagon leaders to discuss the handling of the matter, stating that the public has the right to know when Cabinet members are hospitalized or delegate their duties due to medical reasons.
Ryder cited “an evolving situation” when explaining the timing of the announcement, considering factors such as medical and personal privacy issues. The incident raises questions about transparency and communication within the Pentagon regarding the health of top officials.