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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is discharged from hospital

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was discharged from hospital Monday.
Alberto Pizzoli
/
AFP via Getty Images
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was discharged from hospital Monday.

Updated January 15, 2024 at 11:46 AM ET

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released Monday from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following complications he suffered after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, a Pentagon statement said.

"The Secretary continues to recover well and, on the advice of doctors, will recuperate and perform his duties remotely for a period of time before returning full-time to the Pentagon," the statement said. "He has full access to required secure communications capabilities."

Austin's hospitalization on New Year's Day became controversial after it emerged that no one — including the president — knew for several days that he was in hospital, had undergone surgery for prostate cancer, or that he had complications from the procedure.

Additionally, neither Austin nor his staff told Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks that Austin was hospitalized on December 22nd or January 1st, though the official duties were transferred to her.

There are now three reviews ongoing about these lapses: One by Austin's office and others by the Pentagon Inspector General and the White House.

Austin progressed well throughout his stay and his strength is rebounding, said Dr. John Maddox, trauma medical director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research at Walter Reed's Murtha Cancer Center.

"He underwent a series of medical tests and evaluations and received non-surgical care during his stay to address his medical needs, to include resolving some lingering leg pains," they said in the statement. "He was discharged home with planned physical therapy and regular follow up. The Secretary is expected to make a full recovery."

Austin's prostate cancer was treated early and effectively, and his prognosis is excellent, the statement said, adding: "He has no planned further treatment for his cancer other than regular post-prostatectomy surveillance."

The secrecy surrounding Austin's hospitalization prompted the White House to take a hard look at rules for Cabinet members, according to a memo obtained by NPR. White House spokesman John Kirby said last week that President Biden retained confidence in Austin, but acknowledged: "It is not optimal for a situation like this to go as long as it did without the commander in chief knowing about it, or the national security adviser knowing about it, or frankly other leaders at the department of defense. That's not the way this is supposed to happen."

In early December 2023, Austin was diagnosed with prostate cancer following a regular health screening. The defense secretary's underwent a prostatectomy — the surgical removal of the prostate gland — on Dec. 22. He was under general anesthesia during this procedure, which the White House was not aware of at the time. He recovered from his surgery and returned home the next morning.

But on Jan. 1, Austin was admitted to Walter Reed with complications from the Dec. 22 procedure, including nausea with severe abdominal, hip and leg pain. Initial evaluation revealed a urinary tract infection. The following day, he was transferred to the intensive care unit, where he was found to have abdominal fluid collections that impaired the function of his small intestines.

In a statement released last weekend, Austin said he knows he 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."

Prostate cancer, the most common cause of cancer among American men, affects 1 in every 8 men — and 1 in every 6 Black men — during their lifetime.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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