U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December and underwent a minimally invasive procedure, Walter Reed National Military Center officials said in a statement on Tuesday.
The latest announcement came one day after the White House and the Pentagon both said that they would investigate why President Joe Biden and other high-ranking officials were not informed immediately about the defense secretary’s hospitalization and left in the dark for several days.
The cancer was discovered after a routine prostate screening, Walter Reed officials said. On Dec. 22, Austin underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure called prostatectomy to treat and cure prostate cancer. He was under “general anesthesia” during it.
His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent, according to the statement.
On Jan. 1, 2024, Austin was admitted again to the medical center with complications from the Dec. 22 procedure, including nausea with severe abdominal, hip and leg pain. Initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection. On Jan. 2, he was transferred to an intensive care unit for close monitoring and a higher level of care.
“He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery although this can be a slow process,” the statement said.
During Austin’s stay in the hospital, certain authorities were transferred to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, but both Hicks and the White House weren’t informed of Austin’s hospitalization until Jan. 4.
“I think there’s an expectation that when a Cabinet official becomes hospitalized … that will be notified up the chain of command. There is that expectation,” John Kirby, the National Security Council (NSC)’s coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters Monday.
The Pentagon also announced in a memo Monday night that it would review the way transfer of authority is handled, with a specific focus on the events and decisions related to Austin’s hospitalization. This is to ensure appropriate and timely notification to the president, the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the public in the future.
Austin’s secretive hospitalization occurred amid heightened tension in the Middle East and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Some Republicans in the Congress, as well as former President Donald Trump, have urged Austin to resign, criticizing his failure to disclose his hospitalization and voicing transparency concerns.