Defense Secretary says he takes full responsibility for secret hospitalization

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By Carina

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has issued a statement acknowledging that he could have done a better job informing the public about a recent medical procedure that required his hospitalization. 

This statement comes in response to concerns raised by media and politicians regarding the lack of transparency surrounding his hospitalization.

United States Secretary Defense Lloyd Austin Speaks Media Conference Meeting — Stock Photo, Image
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Secretary Austin’s acknowledgment and commitment to transparency

In his statement, Secretary Austin stated, “I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed.”

“I commit to doing better.” He took full responsibility for the decisions regarding disclosing his medical procedure.

The need for this statement arose following a Politico report that cited two anonymous senior administration officials, revealing a three-day delay in notifying the White House of Secretary Austin’s days-long hospitalization. 

This delay raised questions about the chain of command and communication within the Department of Defense.

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Senator Tom Cotton’s concerns over Secretary Austin’s hospitalization delay

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) expressed his concerns about the delay, stating, “Secretary Austin must address promptly the troubling report that the Department of Defense didn’t immediately notify President Biden or the National Security Council that he was hospitalized and unable to perform his duties.” 

The Secretary of Defense plays a crucial role in the chain of command, especially in decisions involving national security, and any communication breakdown is a cause for concern.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed that on the evening of January 1st, Secretary Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure. 

Mr. Austin was expected to resume his duties on January 5th, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was prepared to act on his behalf if necessary.

Reporting norms for incapacitated officials

In situations involving the incapacitation of senior administration and military officials, there is typically a 24-hour norm for reporting to the president and National Security Council. 

However, the timing of such reports can depend on factors such as the severity of the medical condition and the official’s ability to make decisions.

President Joe Biden did not comment on Mr. Austin’s hospitalization and recovery when asked by a reporter. 

The President’s focus remained on the exceptional care provided by the medical staff at Walter Reed and the support he and his family received.

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Secretary Austin’s hospitalization: gratitude and criticism

Secretary Austin expressed his gratitude towards the medical staff at Walter Reed and the support he received from colleagues and friends.

Halifax Canada Nov 2022 Secretary Defense Lloyd Austin Iii Speaks — Stock Photo, Image
Credit: DepositPhotos

While he did not disclose further details about his procedure, he mentioned being on the mend and looking forward to returning to the Pentagon.

The delay in reporting Secretary Austin’s hospitalization has been met with criticism. 

The Pentagon Press Association called it an “outrage” and emphasized the public’s right to know about the hospitalization of cabinet members or any delegation of duties resulting from medical procedures. 

Privacy concerns amidst heightened tensions

Privacy concerns were also mentioned in the context of this situation.

Secretary Austin’s hospitalization occurred during a period of heightened tensions for U.S. personnel, particularly in regions like the Red Sea. 

The United States faces various challenges, including crises in the Middle East, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression in the South China Sea.

Secretary Austin acknowledges need for improved communication

Secretary Austin’s acknowledgment of the need for better communication regarding his hospitalization reflects the importance of transparency in government and the concerns raised when such transparency is lacking. 

The situation also highlights the challenges and responsibilities faced by leaders in critical positions, especially during times of international tensions.

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