Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has now canceled an upcoming trip to Brussels for meetings with counterparts from other NATO nations following his latest hospitalization.
Austin, 70, was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center on Sunday for ‘symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue.’
Later in the evening, Austin was admitted to the critical care unit and transferred his duties as DoD secretary to his deputy Kathleen Hicks.
It comes after Austin failed to disclose to the White House last month his hospitalization and surgery for his recent prostate cancer diagnosis.
Austin was supposed to depart for NATO meetings with defense ministers in Brussels and a separate meeting with allies on continued support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
A U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that the Ukraine meeting will be held virtually, but confirmed that Austin will no longer be attending the meetings with NATO allies.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 70, will not attend a meeting with other NATO defense ministers in Brussels after he transferred duties to deputy Kathleen Hicks following a hospitalization for ‘symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue’
It’s unclear how long Austin will remain in the military hospital after he was transferred to the critical care unit for ‘supportive care and close monitoring.’
According to a hospital official, Austin was admitted to the critical care unit ‘after a series of tests and evaluations.’
‘The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent,’ Dr. John Maddox said in a statement.
Later Sunday, the DoD announced Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks
Earlier Sunday, it was announced Austin had his duties stripped and transferred to deputy Kathleen Hicks.
Later Sunday, the DoD said Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, at 4:55 p.m.
Hicks ‘assumed the functions and duties’ of Austin as of 5pm Sunday, a spokesman confirmed.
The frequent and immediate updates comes amid criticism for Austin keeping his hospitalization and cancer surgery secret last month – even keeping it under wraps from the President.
Austin said earlier this month that his failure to immediately notify Biden was partially due to his instinct to keep his health private along with being ‘shook’ by the news of his cancer diagnosis.
During a press conference earlier this month, Austin said he would immediately notify his deputy and the White House Situation Room if he has additional medical issues, which appeared to ring true with his hospital visit on Sunday.
‘I have apologized directly to President Biden. I told him I’m deeply sorry for not letting him know immediately,’ Austin said from the Pentagon podium on February 1.
‘I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis, I should have also told my team and the American public,’ he added. ‘I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.’
President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (with a walker) stand during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware of the bodies of three U.S. troops killed in a drone attack in Jordan last month
DoD Sec. Austin spoke during a press conference at the Pentagon on February 1 where he apologized for not immediately informing President Joe Biden of his diagnosis and surgery for prostate cancer last month
The press conference was Austin’s first time speaking publicly about his medical scare and comes as he tries to recover from the scandal of keeping it a secret.
The health scares come during a time when the world is embroiled in turmoil, including a war between Ukraine and Russia and Israel and Hamas, as well as increasing tensions between China and Taiwan and Houthis with Yemen Sunnis.
Having an absent or incapacitated Defense Secretary could further complicate the U.S. role in all of this.
Far-right political activist Laura Loomer said Austin should step down from his post after back-to-back health scares.
‘Time for him to resign,’ she posted to X on Sunday. ‘You can’t be sick and also be Defense Secretary.’
Write and podcaster Jake Novak agreed, posting: ‘Lloyd Austin back in the hospital. President with dementia, chronically sick SecDef. This is the threat to our troops… but the big story is insulting Nikki Haley’s husband?!?’
The retired general said in his press conference this month that his diagnosis with prostate cancer was a ‘gut punch.’
‘I was being treated for prostate cancer,’ he noted. ‘The news shook me and I know it shakes so many others, especially in the black community. It was a gut punch.’
‘Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private,’ the Pentagon chief added. ‘I don’t think it’s news that I’m a pretty private guy. I never like the burdening others with my problems.’
‘It is just not my way. But I’ve learned from this experience taking this kind of job means losing some of the privacy that most of us expect. The American people have a right to know if their leaders are facing health challenges that might affect their ability to perform their duties even temporarily,’ he said.