US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends the start of the second round table during the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels, on October 21, 2021.
Kenzo Tribouillard | Afp | Getty Images
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from the hospital Monday, after spending two weeks there to treat complications from surgery for prostate cancer he kept secret from senior Biden administration leaders and staff for weeks. He is expected to work from home as he recovers.
Austin, 70, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 22 and underwent surgery to treat the cancer, which was detected earlier in the month during a routine screening. He developed an infection a week later and was hospitalized Jan. 1 and admitted to intensive care.
Doctors said he remained in the hospital due to ongoing leg pain resulting from the infection and so he could get physical therapy.
“As I continue to recuperate and perform my duties from home, I’m eager to fully recover and return as quickly as possible to the Pentagon,” Lloyd wrote in a Jan. 15 statement.
President Joe Biden and senior administration officials were not told about Austin’s hospitalization until Jan. 4, and Austin kept the cancer diagnosis secret until Jan. 9. Biden has said Austin’s failure to tell him about the hospitalization was a lapse in judgment, but the Democratic president insists he still has confidence in his Pentagon chief.
During Austin’s time at Walter Reed, the U.S. launched a series of military strikes late last week on the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, targeting dozens of locations linked to their campaign of assaults on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Working from his hospital bed, Austin juggled calls with senior military leaders, including Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, and White House meetings to review, order and ultimately watch the strikes unfold over secure video.
The lack of transparency about Austin’s hospitalization, however, has triggered administration and Defense Department reviews on the procedures for notifying the White House and others if a Cabinet member must transfer decision-making authorities to a deputy, as Austin did during his initial surgery and a portion of his latest hospital stay. And the White House chief of staff ordered Cabinet members to notify his office if they ever can’t perform their duties.
Austin’s secrecy also drew criticism from Congress members on both sides of the political aisle, and Rep. Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he has opened a formal inquiry into the matter. Others openly called for Austin to resign, but the White House has said the Pentagon chief’s job is safe.
It is still unclear when Austin will return to his office in the Pentagon or how his cancer treatment will affect his job, travel and other public engagements going forward. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks has been taking on some of his day-to-day duties as he recovers.