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    Saturday, March 02, 2024

    Defense Secretary Austin back in hospital; White House notified

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during the national anthem during a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was taken to a hospital Sunday to be evaluated for symptoms “suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” the Pentagon said, less than a month after he spent nearly two weeks in intensive care with complications from a surgery to treat prostate cancer.

    Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that Austin’s security team transported him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center about 2:20 p.m. The White House, Congress, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and the Pentagon’s top military officer, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., all have been notified, Ryder said in a brief statement.

    While Austin initially intended to retain the "functions and duties of his office,” at about 5 p.m. Sunday he transferred those authorities to Hicks. As of Sunday evening, he remained hospitalized.

    The situation marks the latest health setback for the Pentagon chief, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December and underwent surgery to treat it Dec. 22. He was taken back to Walter Reed by ambulance from his home in Northern Virginia on Jan. 1 and placed in intensive care for days with side effects that included intense pain and infections of the urinary tract and bladder.

    The secretive handling of Austin’s health crisis became a political problem for the Pentagon, especially after it was revealed that President Joe Biden did not know about Austin’s cancer diagnosis, his surgery, or his second hospitalization until Jan. 4. The Pentagon first disclosed Austin’s hospitalization to Congress and the public Jan. 5.

    Austin later expressed regret for his handling of the situation, describing his diagnosis as a “gut punch” during a Feb. 1 briefing with reporters.

    “I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right,” Austin said. “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and the American people.”

    Austin is set to testify about the situation before the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 29. On Thursday, he received the results of a 30-day review conducted by his team about his hospitalization.

    Austin is scheduled to travel this week to Brussels, where he leads a monthly meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a gathering of nations supporting the Ukrainian government’s efforts to stop Russia’s nearly two-year all-out invasion, and attend a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

    It was not immediately clear Sunday afternoon whether Austin’s travel this week will be postponed, and whether another member of his team may lead the meeting instead.

    Austin worked remotely most of January and was in physical therapy to deal with lingering leg pain, he told reporters Feb. 1. On Feb. 2, he walked with a cane while attending a “dignified transfer” ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware with Biden and other senior U.S. officials as the remains of three U.S. soldiers who were killed in Jordan were returned to the United States.

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