FRIDAY, March 01, 2024

US Defense Secretary Austin cancels travel after new hospitalization

US Defense Secretary Austin cancels travel after new hospitalization

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cancelled a trip to Brussels for NATO defence talks after being admitted to a military hospital for a second time this year, the Pentagon said on Monday (February 12).

Austin, 70, was taken to Walter Reed Military Medical Center on Sunday (February 11) for "symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue." On Monday, he underwent nonsurgical procedures under general anaesthesia to address his bladder issue, the hospital said.

Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, told a news briefing that Austin will no longer travel to Brussels this week.

Austin had failed to disclose a prostate cancer surgery in December and a subsequent hospitalization in January to deal with its complications, triggering a political uproar and multiple investigations.

The Pentagon has not said whether Austin's bladder issue was another complication from that prostate surgery, but the hospital appeared to be upbeat about his cancer prognosis.

Austin was set to depart for the meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels taking place on Thursday, and a separate meeting with allies on Wednesday on how to continue supporting Ukraine in countering Russia's invasion.

The Pentagon said the meeting on Ukraine's defence needs, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), would be held virtually.

It was unclear when Austin would be discharged from the hospital, but he has transferred his duties to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. Walter Reed said Austin was expected to be able to resume his normal duties on Tuesday. "A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated," it said in a statement.

Under fire for his secrecy surrounding his medical condition, Austin apologized earlier this month for failing to tell Biden and senior staff about his cancer diagnosis ahead of time, adding that the health scare was a "gut punch" that had shaken him. 

Austin is scheduled to testify before Congress on Feb. 29 about the secrecy surrounding his initial hospitalization.