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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin Was in Hospital – And No One Knew – Lesson

How can the president not know when one of his Cabinet members is out of action – and how is Lloyd Austin doing now?

The Pentagon was without a Secretary of Defense for nearly a week, and no one seemed to know. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized due to complications of prostate cancer surgery at the same time as his deputy and chief of staff were away, leaving the Department of Defense effectively without leadership. How could such a thing happen? On a more human note, how is the secretary doing now?

The Secret Hospitalization

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year’s Day, a Monday. It was that Friday, five days later, that the media was alerted. This delay caused an uproar, but what was even more outrageous was that the president himself didn’t know, either.

Secretary Austin prepared a press statement explaining his failure to report his hospitalization:

“I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon. I also understand the media concerns about transparency, and I recognize I could have done a better job of ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

GettyImages-2150762638 Joe Biden

Joe Biden (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

Even President Joe Biden criticized the secretary Friday. A reporter asked the president whether it was “a lapse in judgement for him not to tell you earlier.” Biden responded, simply, “Yes.” When asked the follow-up question – whether he still had confidence in Austin – the president replied, “I do.” Biden’s short answers and reluctance to talk about the subject in any great detail certainly gives the impression he isn’t pleased by the slip-up.

Where Is Lloyd Austin Now?

As of the most recent reports, Secretary Austin is still in the hospital, though he is out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and is doing much better. He’s even working remotely from the hospital, including by authorizing strikes against Houthi terrorists based in Yemen in retaliation for attacks against commercial shippers and American military assets in the area.

Austin underwent surgery for prostate cancer last month and was released from the hospital on December 23. The reason for his New Year’s Day trip to the ICU at Walter Reed Medical Center was reported as complications from the surgery and a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Each report since his hospitalization was first revealed, either from Austin himself or from the Department of Defense or the White House, indicates that the secretary is still in the hospital, but that he’s doing better each day and will likely soon return home and to the office.

news and current events bannerIt may be possible, however, that he is – or, at least, was during the height of his illness – suffering commonly known side effects of UTI in elderly patients like mental confusion. Though there’s no proof that UTIs actually cause this brain fog, it’s common enough that when older people show signs of mental decline, one of the first things doctors do is check for such an infection. There’s also no proof or publicly available report by his doctors that Lloyd Austin was suffering such a condition, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he were.

However, if he were, it might explain how it slipped his mind to report his hospitalization. Then again, it could have simply been a lapse in judgement, as the president implied – or it might not have been the secretary’s fault. There was, it seems, some confusion in the office when he first went to the ICU. Evidently, Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, was out with the flu at the same time, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was on vacation in Puerto Rico. Austin was hospitalized Monday, January 1, and reportedly transferred responsibility to Hicks on Tuesday. But between Magsamen’s illness and Hicks being in Puerto Rico, the deputy secretary wasn’t informed of this until Thursday – which was the same day the White House found out.

Was it a failing on Austin’s part – due to UTI-related confusion, perhaps – or did his team drop the ball? The incident is being investigated by the Department of Defense inspector general, the Pentagon, and the House Armed Services Committee.

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