Mr Austin, a retired four-star general and the first Black secretary of defense, was put under general anaesthesia on Monday for a non-surgical procedure to treat the “emergent bladder issue,” his doctors at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center said in a new statement.
They added that he was set to get back to work on Tuesday and that “a prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated”.
But Mr Austin had to cancel a planned trip to Brussels this week, where he was set to attend a monthly meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which includes the more than 50 countries that are sending military aid to Ukraine to help them push back the Russian invasion. Mr Austin was also scheduled to take part in a separate meeting of Nato defence secretaries in the Belgian capital. Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder said that the meeting would now be virtual, ABC News noted.
This weekend’s hospital visit was Mr Austin’s third hospitalisation following his prostate cancer diagnosis in December. Maj Gen Ryder was unable to state on Monday if the bladder issue was a complication following his 22 December surgery for prostate cancer.
Maj Gen Ryder added that Mr Austin is no longer receiving treatment for his cancer diagnosis apart from physical therapy to deal with leg pain.
Dr John Maddox and Dr Gregory Chesnut at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland just outside Washington DC, said in a statement on Monday: “We anticipate the secretary will be able to resume his normal duties tomorrow. The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent.”
Mr Austin previously transferred duties to his deputy after he was moved to a critical care unit for treatment this weekend.
The news came following widespread criticism of the lack of communication in connection to Mr Austin’s previous hospitalisation for prostate cancer. It was reported that President Joe Biden was unaware of his top defence official being out of action for several days before Mr Austin’s condition was communicated.
Maj Gen Patrick Ryder said in a statement on Sunday that Mr Austin, 70, was taken to hospital by his security detail at about 2.20pm.
He added that Mr Austin was taken to “Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be seen for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue. The deputy secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been notified. Additionally, White House and congressional notifications have occurred”.
Initially, Mr Austin retained the duties of his office, but in a follow-up statement, the press secretary said that “at approximately 4:55 pm today, Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the secretary of defense to deputy secretary of defense Kathleen Hicks. The deputy secretary of defense has assumed the functions and duties”.
Doctors at the hospital said in yet another statement later on Sunday that “after a series of tests and evaluations, the secretary was admitted into the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for supportive care and close monitoring”.
“At this time, it is not clear how long secretary Austin will remain hospitalised. The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent,” they added.
The initial statement regarding Mr Austin’s hospitalisation came within three hours of his arrival at Walter Reed, a clear reaction to avoid mistakes of the past. Mr Austin previously said that there had been failures in the lack of communication about his medical status both towards the public and the rest of the Biden administration.
Mr Austin “traveled to the hospital with the unclassified and classified communications systems necessary to perform his duties”, the Pentagon press secretary said before the defense secretary handed over his duties to Ms Hicks.