US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has delegated his duties to his deputy while undergoing treatment for an “emergent bladder issue” at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Pentagon confirmed.
Mr Austin, aged 70, is currently receiving care in the critical care unit of the medical center in Virginia, with the duration of his hospital stay yet to be determined.
The Defence Secretary had faced scrutiny for not disclosing his prostate cancer diagnosis and hospital visits in December and January. On Sunday, the Pentagon announced his hospitalization, and shortly afterward, his functions were transferred to Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
The hospital provided an update on Mr Austin’s condition, revealing that he was admitted to the critical care unit for supportive care and monitoring. Despite the bladder issue, his doctors maintain an optimistic outlook for his full recovery, following his earlier cancer diagnosis in December, with an “excellent” prognosis.
Mr Austin was expected to travel to Brussels this week for a meeting regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but it remains uncertain whether his hospitalization will affect these plans.
Last year, Mr Austin underwent surgery as part of his cancer treatment and was readmitted to the hospital on New Year’s Day due to complications, including severe pain and a urinary tract infection. His extended hospital stay led to concerns over transparency and security, prompting investigations into his handling of the situation.
During a recent press conference, Mr Austin expressed regret for not informing President Biden promptly about his cancer diagnosis, acknowledging that he should have handled the situation differently.
President Biden reiterated his confidence in Mr Austin’s leadership but acknowledged the suboptimal handling of the illness disclosure. Mr Austin is scheduled to testify before Congress later this month regarding his failure to notify government officials.
As a retired four-star general, Mr Austin made history as the first African-American defence secretary when he assumed office in 2020.