US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized in Washington to receive treatment after symptoms of an “accidental bladder problem,” a Pentagon spokesman said on Monday.
After being hospitalized on Sunday, Austin transferred his office duties to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, a Reuters report quoting Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
The US Defense Secretary faced criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers last month for failing to inform not only the office but also President Joe Biden about his cancer diagnosis and hospitalization in December and January.
Subsequently, prominent Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, called for Austin to be fired from his job. The incident was an embarrassment to President Biden after which Austin issued an apology during a televised news briefing. Reuters reported that he is prepared to testify about the situation before Congress on 29 February.
President Biden, however, stood by Austin and said he had confidence in the defense secretary’s leadership, but also said it was “sub-optimal” that he told her about the severity of her illness, BBC News reported. I did not inform.
The Pentagon seemed determined to avoid a repeat of last month’s incident. It said this time, the White House and senior officials were aware of his hospitalization at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Virginia, BBC News reported.
Austin was still in the hospital last month when US forces retaliated against an Iranian-backed militia leader in Baghdad.
Austin is America’s first black defense secretary and a retired four-star general who led forces in Iraq. But his behavior resulted in three separate investigations, including one filed by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General, an agency that tracks military abuse, waste and fraud. Following the complaint, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee has called Austin to testify, Reuters reports.
Although Austin is scheduled to travel to Brussels for a meeting this week, it is still unclear whether his hospital stay will hinder that plan.