US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has publicly expressed remorse for not informing the chain of command about his hospitalization in December, where he underwent treatment for prostate cancer.
Austin, 70, acknowledged his failure to notify President Biden promptly about his diagnosis and apologized during his first news conference since returning to work. Pentagon chiefs are expected to be readily available for national security crises.
Austin clarified that he had not instructed anyone on his staff to conceal his hospitalization but did not address whether staff members acted independently. The defense secretary, a crucial figure in the chain of command, underwent surgery in late December and faced complications leading to his re-admission on New Year’s Day.
In a released audio recording of an emergency call made on the day of his re-admission, a caller, identified as a member of Austin’s staff, requested subtlety in the ambulance transport to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The delay in informing senior defense officials and the White House about Austin’s serious condition occurred three days after his re-admission. Despite his health challenges, Austin continued to fulfill his role, authorizing strikes against Yemen-based Houthi militants from his hospital bed.
President Biden, expressing confidence in Austin’s leadership, described the situation as “sub-optimal” due to the lack of timely disclosure about the defense secretary’s illness.
The incident raised concerns about security and transparency, leading to three investigations into Austin’s handling of the situation. Austin emphasized taking full responsibility and apologized to his colleagues and the American people during the news conference.
As the defense secretary is a critical member of the Cabinet and second in the military chain of command, Austin’s health condition and the subsequent handling of information have drawn attention and scrutiny.
The acknowledgment of shortcomings and the initiation of investigations aim to address the concerns surrounding transparency and communication within the Department of Defense.