Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spent much of this past week in the hospital, the Pentagon announced Friday evening. The hospitalization came as a result of complications following an elective procedure, according to the Department of Defense.
Austin was hospitalized on Monday, Jan. 1 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Pentagon has not said what the initial medical procedure was or what the complications were the required Austin to receive care. He remains at Walter Reed as of press time.
NBC News reports that Austin’s treatment included four days in the intensive care unit, citing two senior administration officials. Task & Purpose has not been able to independently confirm that as of press time.
“Secretary Austin is still in the hospital and recovering well. He resumed his full duties last evening,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement to Task & Purpose. He did not provide any other information regarding Austin’s condition or hospital stay, including NBC News’ reporting.
Saturday afternoon Austin issued his own statement on his hospitalization.
“I want to thank the amazing doctors and nursing staff at Walter Reed for the exceptional care they have delivered to me and for the personal warmth they have shown my family. I also appreciate all the outreach and well wishes from colleagues and friends,” Austin said. “Charlene and I are very grateful for your support.I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon.”
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The Pentagon’s announcement came four days after the secretary was hospitalized. The Military Reporters & Editors organization released a statement criticizing the Pentagon’s delay in updating reporters and the public of Austin’s situation.
“There is no excuse for the lack of notification. Secretary Austin enjoys no privilege of privacy here given the important role he plays,” the letter reads in part. It pointed to a similar incident last year when Marine Commandant Eric Smith was hospitalized for cardiac arrest.
The Pentagon Press Association similarly criticized the Department of Defense on Friday for its failure to inform the public sooner. The group requested a meeting with Ryder and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Chris Meagher.
“At a time when there are growing threats to U.S. military service members in the Middle East and the U.S. is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader,” the statement said.
In his Saturday, Jan. 6 statement on his hospitalization, Austin addressed the criticism directed at the silence by him and his department.
“I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better,” he said. “But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”
The Pentagon’s silence on Austin’s health is part of a wider lack of transparency in recent weeks. The department has been slow to share updates on troop injuries and combat incidents in the last three months of violence in the Middle East. When the USS Carney shot down several drones and missiles over the Red Sea in October, the first of now more than two dozen incidents in the waters of the region, only scant details were shared. More information, including the size and hours-long duration of the incident came days later. When a drone attack on Christmas Day in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan left three service members injured, the Pentagon only said that one was in critical condition. According to a GoFundMe page set up by a family friend, that service member is an 82nd Airborne pilot who suffered a critical head injury from shrapnel in the attack.
Update: 1/6/2024: This story has been updated with Austin’s statement.
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