Defense Secretary Says He Shouldn’t Have Kept Hospitalization, Cancer Diagnosis Secret

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Feb. 1 said it wasn’t right that he and other military officials kept secret the fact that he underwent surgery for cancer and was hospitalized again shortly after.

“I want to be crystal clear—we did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right,” Mr. Austin, a retired general, told a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington.

Mr. Austin, 70, underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in December 2023, which wasn’t conveyed to the White House or the public. He and staff members also hid for days how he was rushed to the hospital on New Year’s Day for abdominal pain and other problems. And virtually no one, including President Joe Biden, was told for some time of Mr. Austin’s cancer diagnosis.

Mr. Austin said that what happened stemmed from being shaken in the wake of learning he had cancer.

“It was a gut punch. And frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s news that I’m a pretty private guy. I never like burdening others with my problems. It’s just not my way. But I’ve learned from this experience. Taking this kind of job means losing some of the privacy that most of us expect. The American people have a right to know if their leaders are facing health challenges that might affect their ability to perform their duties even temporarily. So a wider circle should have been notified, especially the press.”

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Mr. Austin also said he was worried about overburdening President Biden.

“When you’re the president of the United States, you got a lot of things on your plate,” he said. “And so putting my personal issue on, adding to his all the things that he’s got on his plate, I just didn’t feel that that was a thing that I should do at the time. But again, I recognize that that was a mistake.”

Mr. Austin underwent the surgery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 22, 2023, a few weeks after receiving the cancer diagnosis from doctors. He was placed under general anesthesia and transferred some of his powers to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. Officials say Ms. Hicks wasn’t given details of the situation.

Mr. Austin was discharged the following day but was rushed to the hospital on Jan. 1 with pain in his abdomen, hip, and leg. After being admitted, he was moved to intensive care, at which point he transferred powers to Ms. Hicks again.

Mr. Austin disclosed on Feb. 1 that he was suffering from fever, chills, and shallow breathing in addition to the other issues.

Doctors initially found a urinary tract infection. Further evaluation showed abdominal fluid buildup, which was impairing Mr. Austin’s small intestines, so they drained the fluid through a tube. After an infection was cleared, he began recovering.

In the second stay, Mr. Austin was never placed under anesthesia, doctors said.

The White House wasn’t informed of the hospitalization until Jan. 4. The public learned of the situation on Jan. 5.

That same day, Mr. Austin resumed his duties, working from the hospital.

Neither the public nor the White House were informed of the cancer diagnosis until Jan. 9, officials have said.

Mr. Austin was released from Walter Reed on Jan. 15 and began working from home. He returned to the Pentagon on Jan. 29.

The Department of Defense’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into what happened, while military officials have been ordered by the department’s leadership to carry out an internal review.

President Biden, who appointed Mr. Austin, has said he retains confidence in the defense secretary. The White House has said the president wouldn’t accept Mr. Austin’s resignation if it were offered. Some lawmakers have called on Mr. Austin to step down, and an impeachment resolution has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mr. Austin said on Feb. 1 that he hasn’t considered resigning.

“I have apologized directly to President Biden. And I’ve told him that I’m deeply sorry for not letting him know immediately that I received a heavy diagnosis and was getting treatment. And he has responded with a grace and warm heart that anyone who knows President Biden would expect. And I’m grateful for his full confidence in me,” Mr. Austin said.

Mr. Austin said he didn’t tell staff members to conceal his hospitalization from other people. Audio from the 911 call that brought the ambulance to Mr. Austin’s home revealed an aide asking for the ambulance to keep the lights and siren off in a bid to be “subtle.”

“I asked my assistant to call the ambulance. I did not direct him to do anything further than just call the ambulance. And so what he said in [the call], I think that should come out in the review as well,” Mr. Austin said.

“I don’t think I’ve created a culture of secrecy. I think there will be security officers, there will be other staff members who may perceive that they’re doing things in my best interest,” he said later. “I can’t predict or determine or ascertain what those things may be.”

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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