US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday, according to the Pentagon, two weeks after he was admitted for complications following prostate cancer surgery.
Austin will work remotely “for a period of time” before returning to the Pentagon, the Pentagon statement said. He has “full access” to secure communications capabilities.
His doctors said Monday that he is “expected to make a full recovery.”
“Secretary Austin’s prostate cancer was treated early and effectively, and his prognosis is excellent,” said a statement from Dr. John Maddox, Trauma Medical Director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, Director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research at the Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “He has no planned further treatment for his cancer other than regular post-prostatectomy surveillance.”
Austin said in a statement on Monday that he is “grateful for the excellent care I received at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and want to thank the outstanding doctors and nursing staff for their professionalism and superb support.”
“Now, as I continue to recuperate and perform my duties from home, I’m eager to fully recover and return as quickly as possible to the Pentagon,” he said.
His discharge comes after Austin was hospitalized on January 1 for complications from a prostate cancer procedure in December. The Pentagon did not notify the media until January 5 and despite the seriousness of his hospitalization, it was later revealed that Austin had not notified Congress or the White House about his diagnosis, initial procedure, or subsequent complications and hospitalization.
The failure to notify kicked off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, spurring one internal review of Austin’s office and a probe by the Defense Department’s Inspector General. The Pentagon has said that Austin’s chief of staff was sick with the flu and therefore was unable to notify people immediately.
But the delay has raised significant concerns about transparency and communications within the Biden administration, made worse by the increasingly tense national security situation abroad as the US navigates ongoing Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria.
Asked Friday if Austin’s delay in notification was a lapse of judgement, President Joe Biden responded, “Yes.”
Austin was still in the hospital on Thursday, when the US and UK, supported by several other allies, carried out strikes on dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen. Officials said Austin was “fully engaged” in the joint strikes and monitored the operation in real time.
“It was seamless,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday. “His participation was no different than it would be on any other given day, except that he was briefing the President on options and engaged in the discussions from the hospital.”
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder also said Friday on “CNN This Morning” that Austin spoke with Biden twice over the last two days and “multiple daily calls” with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, and US Central Command commander Gen. Erik Kurilla.
“The secretary gave the order to Central Command to initiate those strikes and then monitored in real time with a full suite of secure communications. And then post-strike, he conducted a phone call with the National Security Advisor, the Chairman and the CENTCOM commander to do an initial assessment,” Ryder said.
Austin’s first procedure on December 22, which occurred while he was on leave, was a “minimally invasive surgical procedure called a prostatectomy,” a statement from his doctors at Walter Reed said on Tuesday. During the procedure he was under general anesthesia; he returned home the next morning.
But a little over a week later on January 1, Austin began experiencing severe pain and was taken back to the hospital in an ambulance. The statement from his doctors said the complications he was experiencing included nausea with “severe abdominal, hip, and leg pain.” He was found to have a urinary tract infection, and the next day on January 2 he was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
“Further evaluation revealed abdominal fluid collections impairing the function of his small intestines,” the statement on Tuesday said. “This resulted in the back up of his intestinal contents which was treated by placing a tube through his nose to drain his stomach. The abdominal fluid collections were drained by non-surgical drain placement. He has progressed steadily throughout his stay.”
Dr. Oliver Sartor, the chief of the Genitourinary Cancer Disease Group at the Mayo Clinic who is not treating Austin, told CNN on Friday that Austin’s hospitalization seemed to be “an unusually prolonged” one.
“At this point, I am a little bit uncertain as to what is happening, but it would seem as though whatever complication that he has experienced is actually rather severe, because otherwise the hospitalization would not have lasted this long.”
But other experts said that Austin’s status as a Cabinet member could mean his doctors are taking extra care and keeping him longer out of an abundance of caution.
“It’s possible that it if were me and I had the problems he had on January 1, that I’d already be at home,” Dr. Otis Brawley, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center who is also not treating Austin told CNN. “Taking care of senators, Supreme Court justices, you get very, very cautious.”
While many lawmakers wished Austin well, several have said publicly that there needs to be accountability and more answers as to what happened. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker sent a letter to Austin on Thursday with a series of questions, saying they need a “full accounting” to ensure the situation never happens again.
“The Department of Defense is the most vital element of the United States government,” Reed and Wicker said. “We expect you and the Department to address this lapse in procedure—whether intended or not—with the utmost seriousness and tenacity, and to uphold the ethic of accountability that our military holds sacred.”
This story has been updated with additional information.
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