Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he could have better informed the public about his recent hospitalization after concerns arose over transparency and what the Pentagon knew.
“I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon,” Austin said in a statement Saturday. “I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better.”
“But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure,” Austin added.
The Pentagon announced Friday that Austin was admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Monday evening. He went to the hospital for “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.”
“At all times, the deputy secretary of defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the secretary, if required,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Friday.
Ryder said it was not clear when Austin would be released from the hospital but said he was recovering.
But the Pentagon’s failure to disclose Austin’s hospitalization is out of the norm for the president and other senior U.S. officials and Cabinet members, The Associated Press reported.
The Pentagon Press Association, a group of reporters that cover the Department of Defense, sent a letter calling the lack of information an outrage.
“At a time when there are growing threats to U.S. military service members in the Middle East and the U.S. is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader,” the letter wrote, per the AP.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who is ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement about Austin’s hospitalization news.
“I am glad to hear @SecDef is in improved condition and I wish him a speedy recovery. However, the fact remains that the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable,” Wicker said online, adding that the public deserved to know.
“Worryingly, we now have more questions than answers,” Wicker’s statement said, adding that the incident “further erodes trust in the Biden administration.”
The White House has not said when or how it was informed about Austin’s hospitalization, but according to Politico, the Pentagon did not tell President Biden and other top officials for three days.
“I want to thank the amazing doctors and nursing staff at Walter Reed for the exceptional care they have delivered to me and for the personal warmth they have shown my family,” Austin’s statement said. “I also appreciate all the outreach and well wishes from colleagues and friends. Charlene and I are very grateful for your support.
It was not immediately clear what the elective medical procedure was. Austin, who is 70-years-old, is a retired Army four-star general who served more than 40 years in the military, The Hill previously reported.
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