US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled his trip to NATO headquarters after being hospitalized for the third time in three months. The 70-year-old is in the critical care unit at a hospital in Washington DC. The Pentagon said it faces an emergency bladder problem. Likewise, the powers as a member of the cabinet have been delegated to his deputy.
Not long ago, Austin faced criticism for keeping his hospitalizations under wraps. The Secretary of Defense had not reported his diagnosis of prostate cancer in December, or his return to the hospital in January, either publicly or to the US chain of command.
On Wednesday, Austin was to chair a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) in Brussels, Belgium. This was expected to be his first trip abroad since his first hospitalization. He was also due to attend a meeting of the NATO Defense Ministerial, chaired by the Alliance's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, on Thursday. At the last UCDG meeting, Austin attended virtually from his home on January 23.
On Sunday evening, the Pentagon released a statement about Austin's hospitalization, adding that both the White House and Defense officials had been notified. While some time later, the Pentagon announced the transfer of the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense, to the Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Hicks.
As he writes with the BBC, so far officials have not provided details on how long Austin will stay in the hospital, or when he can return to his duties at the head of the department he leads.
However, doctors are optimistic that the current problem will not affect his full recovery from cancer. Last year, Austin underwent surgery as part of his cancer treatment. He was admitted to the hospital on New Year's Day due to severe pain in his legs, hips and abdomen, which resulted from complications from the intervention. Tests revealed that he had a urinary tract infection, so he was hospitalized for more than 2 weeks.
Defense officials and the Biden administration were unaware that Austin was seriously ill and only found out three days after he was re-hospitalized in January.
The Secretary of Defense comes directly after the president in the US military chain of command and is considered one of the most important members of the US government cabinet.
The case in question raised concerns about both transparency and security. 3 different investigations were launched into how Austin treated his illness and hospital stays. Some Republicans called for his removal from office.
In a statement to the media earlier this month, Austin said he was extremely sorry for not making the proper announcements and that he had personally apologized to President Joe Biden. The Secretary of Defense is expected to testify at the end of the month precisely about the reasons why he did not notify the government leaders./tvklan.al