The Spectrum & Daily News

Defense secretary back in hospital

Austin transfers authority to his deputy

- Tom Vanden Brook

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was rushed to the hospital Sunday for symptoms of an “emergent” bladder issue, less than a month after his previous secret stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center sparked controvers­y.

Austin, 70, was taken back to Walter Reed by his security detail at 2:20 p.m. Sunday, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary. Just before 5 p.m., he transferre­d his authority to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. He remained at the hospital Sunday evening, Ryder said.

Unlike his previous hospitaliz­ation that began Jan. 1, Austin notified the White House, Congress and Pentagon officials, Ryder said in a statement.

Earlier Sunday, Ryder said that Austin had retained his his authority, noting that he had the secret communicat­ions systems necessary to perform his duties.

Austin was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed on Jan. 1 after complainin­g of severe pain.

He had developed complicati­ons from surgery for prostate cancer on Dec. 22, according to his doctors. Austin failed to notify the White House, Congress and key staffers at the Pentagon of his diagnosis.

Austin’s staff sought to keep his ambulance ride under the radar as well, according to a transcript of the 911 call obtained by USA TODAY.

A staff member asked dispatch to

approach his house in the northern Virginia suburbs without sirens or flashing lights to keep it “subtle.”

Doctors at Walter Reed placed him in intensive care for four days, a fact that Austin kept secret. He eventually transferre­d his authority to Hicks.

Austin, at a Feb. 1 news conference, apologized for trying to conceal his illness and subsequent hospitaliz­ation. He called the diagnosis a “gut punch,” and said his instinct was to keep his illness private. He said that he took full responsibi­lity for the mistake.

Pentagon officials recently completed a review of its policy regarding transfer of authority, Ryder said last week. Austin is reviewing that report before its release. In addition, the Pentagon Inspector General is investigat­ing the matter, and Congress has called on Austin to testify about it.

Austin’s hospitaliz­ation comes at a pivotal moment as he prepares to meet key allies in Europe. Austin is scheduled to meet with allies providing military aid, and with defense chiefs from NATO in Brussels.

On Sunday, the Senate approved a foreign aid package that includes $60 billion to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs to push back against Russia. The measure faces an uncertain future in the House where some GOP members oppose the financial assistance to Kyiv.

NATO allies will also likely be concerned by comments from former President Donald Trump over the weekend demeaning the value of the alliance.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination, Trump renewed a false criticism of how NATO is funded and said he might not defend European treaty members if they are attacked by Russia unless they had paid enough to satisfy him.

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