The Pentagon has confirmed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been hospitalized since Monday, U.S. officials announced Saturday. Members of Congress and U.S. officials were unaware of Austin’s absence or the state of his condition for several days.
Austin, 70, remained hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland due to complications from an elective medical procedure, a spokesman for the defense secretary confirmed in a press release. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were notified about Austin’s hospitalization, though he did not say when that happened.
According to a report from the Associated Press, a number of senior Pentagon officials were completely unaware of Austin’s absence until Friday. Members of Congress were also informed Friday, while most general Pentagon staff did not find out until 5 p.m. after the department put out a statement. Most believed he had been on vacation all week.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who stepped in when Austin was hospitalized, was on vacation when duties were transferred to her. A U.S. official told the AP that she was able to perform her duties from Puerto Rico while Austin was in the hospital.
On Saturday, Ryder announced that Austin was recovering well and resumed his duties from his hospital bed on Friday evening.
Lack of transparency from the Pentagon has generated controversy due to the number of potential national security emergencies facing the U.S. at this time. The Pentagon Press Association, which represents media members who cover the Defense Department, penned a letter to Ryder expressing their disapproval with the incident’s handling.
“The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late on a Friday evening is an outrage,” the PPA said in its letter. “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 White House has not commented on the timeline of Austin’s absence or when they were informed.