Pentagon chief to temporarily transfer duties

Lloyd Austin has appointed a temporary replacement during his medical procedure after previously being secretly hospitalized

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has made plans to turn over his duties to a deputy while he’s undergoing an elective medical procedure. This move aims to avoid the secrecy that led to a government investigation after his undisclosed hospitalization earlier this year.

The Pentagon’s deputy chief, Kathleen Hicks, will fill in for Austin while he undergoes a procedure on Friday night at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, a military spokesman told reporters.

“The procedure is related to a bladder issue Austin suffered as a result of a surgery he underwent to treat prostate cancer earlier this year,” said the Pentagon spokesman, Major General Pat Ryder.

The treatment is non-surgical and “minimally invasive,” Ryder noted. Austin determined that he would be temporarily unable to perform his job duties, so Hicks was assigned to handle his role temporarily. The spokesman didn’t specify how long the defense chief was expected to be sidelined.

Austin, who is 70, underwent surgery for prostate cancer last December without informing President Joe Biden or other officials both above and below him in the US chain of command. He experienced abdominal pain on January 1 and was transported to the hospital via ambulance. He remained there for nearly two weeks while receiving treatment for a urinary tract infection. The severity of his condition led to his admission to Walter Reed’s intensive care unit on January 2.

Neither White House officials nor Hicks were informed of Austin’s incapacitating illness until January 4. Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico at the time, filled in for Austin, but only learned of his hospitalization three days later.

A Pentagon investigation found no “ill intent” or serious wrongdoing in the secrecy surrounding Austin’s hospitalization. The department implemented new policies to ensure a smooth chain of command, and these steps were taken when Austin was hospitalized again in February.

Austin, a former US Army general and Raytheon board member, addressed the controversy for the first time in a February 1 press briefing. He acknowledged that the handling of his cancer diagnosis was not appropriate, adding, “I should have also informed my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my colleagues and to the American people.”