Saturday marks the 13th day that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, after suffering complications from a Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer at the hospital, kept secret from the president. Austin returned to the hospital on Jan. 1 and was admitted to the intensive care unit, something he also kept secret from the president and nation for four days.
Sec. Austin has been in the hospital for 14 of the past 24 days.
The Pentagon issued a statement Saturday that indicated it does not know when Austin will be released: “Secretary Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is in good condition. He’s in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide. We do not have a specific date for Secretary Austin’s release from the hospital at this time but will continue to provide daily updates until then.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden acknowledged that Austin had used poor judgment when he went into the hospital without telling the commander in chief, Congress or the public.
During a campaign stop at a coffeeshop in Allentown, Penn., Biden was asked by a reporter, “Do you have confidence in Secretary Austin?”
Biden responded with just two words:
There reporter followed up, “Was it a lapse in judgment for him not to tell you earlier?”
Biden responded with just one word, “Yes.”
Austin was in the intensive care unit for three days before Biden, who was on vacation in the Bahamas, was notified. Also not notified that Austin was in intensive care was Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who had been notified that she was taking over some of his duties. She, too, was on vacation in Puerto Rico.
On Thursday, the U.S. and Britain carried out dozens of air strikes on Houthi military targets, widening the various conflicts in the Middle East, which began when Hamas terrorists conducted a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Other U.S. military action has been ongoing in the Middle East throughout Austin’s hospitalization.
On Friday the Department of Defense inspector general opened up an investigation into the order of events that started before Austin was first hospitalized Dec. 22, such as when his first diagnosis for cancer was made, who knew, when they knew, why he did not tell the president, and how the chain of command was secured for the several weeks since the secretary’s medical crisis began.
When Austin first revealed the hospitalization, on Jan. 5, he said, through the Defense Department, that the initial procedure that took Austin to the hospital was “elective.” Walter Reed Hospital later admitted that it was not elective but required prostate surgery.