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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized again, weeks after secret cancer diagnosis

The 70-year-old Catholic retired general was diagnosed with cancer in December—a matter he kept secret until the onset of an infection days later.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III is seen at a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on Feb. 1. (Kevin Wolf/AP)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III underwent a non-surgical procedure early this week at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland, after being rushed to the hospital with an “emergent bladder issue” on Sunday afternoon.

The news came via a statement from Drs. John Maddox, the hospital’s medical director, and Gregory Chesnut, head of the Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha Cancer Center, on Monday. Austin had been transferred to the critical care unit on Sunday night.

“We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight,” the doctors said.

“A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated.  We anticipate the Secretary will be able to resume his normal duties [Wednesday].”

Lloyd’s latest hospitalization comes just weeks after his controversial stay at Walter Reed beginning in December, when he was diagnosed with and treated for prostate cancer. The 70-year-old Black Catholic retired general kept the diagnosis secret, however, including from President Joe Biden and White House staff.

Austin was subsequently hospitalized for treatment of a urinary tract infection in early January, leading to the revelation of his condition and to bipartisan calls for him to resign.

The Pentagon instituted a 30-day review of communication procedures in response to the incident, which comes amid various overseas military conflicts involving U.S. forces and funding. These include the Russo-Ukrainian War, as well as the Israel-Hamas War and the attendant Red Sea Crisis.

Following a public announcement on Jan. 9 of his cancer diagnosis, Austin said he “could have done a better job” in informing the public of his condition.

“I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

During this week’s hospitalization, Austin transferred the functions of his office to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks on Sunday evening and has yet to fully resume his duties. 

Austin was scheduled to travel to Brussels to attend a Thursday meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group, but that trip has been canceled. The Pentagon says he plans to attend the meeting virtually. Austin is also scheduled to testify before Congress on Feb. 29 concerning the non-disclosure of his original hospitalization and cancer diagnosis.

It remains unclear how long the defense secretary will be hospitalized with the bladder issue, which has not been specified, but Walter Reed officials said on Sunday and Monday that Austin’s cancer prognosis “remains excellent.” 

“The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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