Update: U.S. Defense Sec. Hospitalization

January 10, 2024

… we recognize that we have to do a better job in terms of the timeliness and the transparency when it comes to, especially the Secretary’s health.

United States Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder in a press conference on Tuesday providing an update on the hospitalization of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The timing of when information was released to other Pentagon officials, the White House and the public has prompted conversation about the transparency of the federal government.

Important Context: One of the U.S.’ top officials, Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin, 70, received care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center beginning January 1 for what the Pentagon said Tuesday was complications related to a December 22 procedure for prostate cancer. According to the Department of Defense, Sec. of Defense Austin resumed work duties on January 5 – the date his hospitalization was publicly disclosed – but remained in the hospital on Wednesday.

Big Picture: On Tuesday, the White House chief of staff ordered Cabinet heads “to notify his office if they ever can’t perform their duties …” (The Associated Press). Prior to this, the White House did not have a specific policy for how absences of Cabinet officials should be handled, but “there is a general expectation that the White House should be made aware of such circumstances,” explains The AP. Secrecy around Sec. of Defense Austin’s hospitalization has received bipartisan criticism. And while doctor’s diagnosed Austin with cancer in early December, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby disclosed that Pres. Biden and the White House learned of Austin’s cancer diagnosis on Tuesday morning.

Read More:

Secrecy surrounding the defense secretary’s hospitalization has put the White House on the defensive (The Associated Press)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin diagnosed with prostate cancer (NBC News)

Timeline: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospitalization (CBS News)

by Emily Hooker, based in Texas