Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to resume his normal duties Tuesday following a procedure at Walter Reed Medical Center to address a bladder issue, the Pentagon announced Monday.
Austin, 70, underwent nonsurgical procedures under general anesthesia to address a bladder issue after he was admitted to Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md. on Sunday, the hospital’s doctors and the Pentagon said Monday.
Walter Reed officials said they “anticipate a successful recovery” and plan to monitor the Pentagon chief overnight Monday.
“A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated. We anticipate the Secretary will be able to resume his normal duties tomorrow [Tuesday],” the doctors wrote in a statement Monday afternoon.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assumed the secretary duties shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday after Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder initially said Austin would be “retaining” his functions and duties of the office earlier in the day.
Ryder said Monday that Austin is in “good condition,” according to his doctors, and will remain in the intensive care ward for the remainder of his stay. He added it is still not clear if Austin will be able to resume these duties from the hospital or from his home.
Austin was brought to Walter Reed on Sunday afternoon after showing symptoms “suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” and was later admitted to Walter Reed’s critical care unit following a series of tests and evaluations.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December, and doctors noted Monday the current bladder issue is not expected to alter his “anticipated full recovery.” Doctors added Austin’s cancer prognosis remains “excellent.”
Ryder declined to answer if Austin’s most recent bladder issue is related to his cancer diagnosis or his December surgery to treat the cancer.
Austin spent weeks at Walter Reed early last month for an infection stemming from a Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer. This weeks-long hospitalization drew controversy when news surfaced that the White House and Hicks were not made aware of his hospitalization until Jan. 4, days after his Jan. 1 admittance.
Austin also did not reveal his prostate cancer diagnosis until Jan. 9, nearly a month after a health screening in early December found the cancer.
Ryder told reporters Monday that the White House was informed of Austin’s hospitalization before he departed for the hospital Sunday, and notifications were also sent to the deputy secretary of Defense, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress. Ryder said Austin has not yet spoken to President Biden to the best of his knowledge.
The top Defense chief will no longer travel to Brussels this week, where he was expected to meet with NATO ministers and work on Ukraine military aid, Ryder confirmed during Monday’s press briefing.
He was slated to travel to Brussels on Tuesday for a regular meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) to discuss military aid for Ukraine, which will now be held virtually Wednesday, Ryder said.
Ryder confirmed Austin intends to participate in the UDCG’s meeting virtually, while noting he “will remain flexible depending on his health care status.”
Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, will be in Brussels this week to represent the secretary, while Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. will attend virtually, Ryder told reporters.
Julie Smith, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, will represent Austin at the NATO defense ministerial slated for Thursday, he added.
Following mounting scrutiny over Austin’s undisclosed hospitalization last month, the Defense Department’s inspector general launched an investigation into the incident, and the Pentagon carried out a 30-day internal review of policies and procedures.
The White House also investigated the incident and subsequently ordered Cabinet secretaries to notify when they are unable to perform their duties.
Austin is expected to testify on the controversy Feb. 29 before the House Armed Services Committee, amid calls from House GOP defense hawks to explain why his visit went undisclosed for days.
Ryder said there is no further treatment expected for Austin’s cancer diagnosis, except for physical therapy to deal with lingering leg pains.
— Updated at 4:04 p.m.