Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from a Washington-area hospital Monday, two weeks after experiencing complications from surgery to treat prostate cancer — and keeping it from his subordinates at the Pentagon and his boss at the White House.
In a statement, Austin’s doctors said the 70-year-old would continue to work from home “for a period of time” and undergo physical therapy, but is expected to make a full recovery.
“Secretary Austin progressed well throughout his stay and his strength is rebounding,” Walter Reed National Military Medical Center doctors John Maddox and Gregory Chesnut said in a statement.
“He underwent a series of medical tests and evaluations and received non-surgical care during his stay to address his medical needs, to include resolving some lingering leg pains.”
Austin said in a separate statement he was “grateful for the excellent care” he received at the nation’s top military hospital.
“I want to thank the outstanding doctors and nursing staff for their professionalism and superb support. I also am thankful and appreciative for all the well wishes I received for a speedy recovery,” said Austin.
“Now, 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.”
Austin was rushed to Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md., on the night of Jan. 1 in severe pain from a urinary tract infection – a complication from a prostatectomy he had undergone Dec. 22 – but failed to inform the White House of his resulting hospitalization until Jan. 4.
Instead, he quietly transferred his authorities to Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks on Jan. 2 — without telling her or any of his other Pentagon colleagues of the reason behind it.
Hicks, who was vacationing in Puerto Rico at the time, did not learn of Austin’s hospitalization for another two days.
The Pentagon announced Austin’s hospitalization in a Friday news dump the evening of Jan. 5, but the defense secretary kept the full story of his hospitalization quiet until this past Tuesday, when his Walter Reed doctors released a statement that was news to both the Pentagon and the White House.
The secrecy caused outrage on Capitol Hill, with some members of Congress calling for Austin’s resignation.
The defense secretary’s critics noted Austin had gone dark at a time when the US is grappling with fallout from wars in Ukraine and the Middle East — carrying out airstrikes against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen while the defense secretary was laid up.
Despite the backlash, the White House expressed confidence in Austin, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling MSNBC Friday: “We’re all going to learn from this event, but the defense secretary’s going to stay in office.”
While touring Allentown, Pa. Friday afternoon, President Biden told reporters “I do” when asked if he still had confidence in Austin — but also answered “yes” when asked if Austin had shown a lapse in judgment by not informing him of his illness.
The 41-year Army veteran’s failure to inform his chain of command of his health issues sent shockwaves through Washington last week, but Austin is known for his deeply private nature that the Biden administration had previously appreciated.
Tasked with overseeing the disastrous 2021 US withdrawal from Afghanistan, coordinating tens of billions of dollars in military aid shipments to Ukraine and directing the US response to the current upheaval in the Middle East, Austin has quietly carried out his duties as Biden’s first and only defense secretary.
By contrast, former President Donald Trump had five acting and confirmed secretaries of defense throughout his four years in office.
Prostate cancer is highly survivable and affects one in every eight American men in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Secretary Austin’s prostate cancer was treated early and effectively, and his prognosis is excellent,” his doctors said. “He has no planned further treatment for his cancer other than regular post-prostatectomy surveillance.”
“Early detection and treatment can result in an expected near-100% survival rate when treated with appropriate individualized care plans,” they added.