A Pentagon spokesperson on Monday said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin was hospitalised in Washington to receive treatment after symptoms suggested an “emergent bladder issue.”
Following his hospitalisation on Sunday, Austin transferred his office duties to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, a Reuters report said, quoting Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Pat Ryder.
The US Defense Secretary faced criticism last month from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers after he failed to disclose his cancer diagnosis and hospitalisations in December and January, to not just the office but to President Joe Biden.
Subsequently, prominent Republicans including former President Donald Trump demanded Austin be fired from his job. The incident was a cause of embarrassment for President Biden after which Austin issued an apology during the televised news briefing. He is set to testify about the situation before Congress on February 29, Reuters reported.
President Biden, however, stood by Austin saying that he is confident of the defense secretary’s leadership but also maintained that it was “sub-optimal” that he had not informed about the seriousness of his illness, BBC News reported.
The Pentagon seemed to be determined to avoid the repetition of last month’s incident. It said that this time, the White House and senior officials were aware about his hospitalisation at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Virginia, BBC News reported.
Austin was still in hospital last month when US forces launched a retaliatory attack on an Iranian-backed militia leader in Baghdad.
Austin is America’s first Black defense secretary and a retired four-star general who has led forces in Iraq. But his behavior has resulted in three different investigations, including one filed by the office of the Pentagon’s Inspector General, an agency that tracks military abuse, waste, and fraud. Following the complaint, the Republican chair of the House Armed Forces Committee has called Austin to testify, Reuters reported.
Although Austin is scheduled to visit Brussels for a meeting this week, it is still unclear if his hospital stay will hinder that plan.