Washington: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December, was hospitalized again on Sunday due to symptoms related to bladder problems, the Pentagon announced. Austin, who had undergone surgery to remove his prostate gland on December 22, had suffered from post-operative complications that required him to spend two weeks in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Austin, who is the first African American to lead the Pentagon, was taken by his security team to Walter Reed around 2:20 pm on Sunday after he experienced discomfort and pain in his lower abdomen. He initially planned to carry on with the functions of his office, but at about 5 pm, he decided to hand over his authority to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, as a precautionary measure. Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder said Austin remained hospitalized as of Sunday evening, and his condition was stable.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, as well as the White House and Congress, were informed about Austin’s health situation. President Joe Biden, who had appointed Austin as his defense secretary in January, expressed his concern and wished him a speedy recovery.
Austin’s hospitalization came at a critical time, as he was due to depart for Brussels on Tuesday to hold a meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group, a coalition of countries that provide military support to Kyiv after Russia’s invasion in 2022. Austin was then scheduled to attend a regular meeting of NATO defense ministers, where he was expected to discuss the alliance’s response to the Russian aggression, as well as other security challenges in the Middle East and Asia. It was not immediately clear whether Austin’s hospitalization would change those plans, or whether Hicks would represent him in his absence.
Austin, a retired four-star general who had served as the commander of US Central Command, had revealed his prostate cancer diagnosis on December 17, in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, ahead of his confirmation hearing. He said he had discovered the cancer during a routine physical examination in November, and that it was localized and treatable. He also said he was confident that he could perform his duties as the defense secretary without any hindrance.
Austin underwent a procedure called prostatectomy, which involves the surgical removal of the prostate gland, on December 22, at Walter Reed. The surgery was successful, and Austin was expected to make a full recovery. However, he developed complications later in the week, such as bleeding and infection, and on January 1, he was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. He received blood transfusions and antibiotics, and his condition improved gradually.
Austin remained at Walter Reed until January 15, when he was discharged and allowed to continue his recovery at home. He resumed working from home and participated in several virtual meetings and briefings with the president, the national security team, and foreign counterparts. He returned to the Pentagon on January 29 and resumed his normal schedule of activities. He also received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on February 1.
Austin, who is 68 years old, is one of the oldest members of Biden’s cabinet. He has a distinguished military career, spanning over four decades, during which he served in various combat and leadership roles, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the army in 2016 and joined the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, a major defense contractor. He resigned from the board after he was nominated the defense secretary. He also had to obtain a waiver from Congress to serve as the defense secretary, as he had not been out of the military for the required seven years. He was confirmed by the Senate on January 22, by a vote of 93-2.