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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized, delegates powers amid ongoing health battle

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized once again, this time to address a bladder issue stemming from his ongoing recovery from prostate cancer, the Pentagon announced Sunday.

Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon Press Secretary, stated that Austin was transported by his security detail to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday afternoon for symptoms indicating an emergent bladder problem.

Austin, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December, has been grappling with complications from his treatment. Despite initially intending to retain the functions and duties of his office, Austin transferred these authorities to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks around 5 p.m. Sunday. As of the latest update, Austin remains hospitalized.

Notification of Austin’s hospitalization was promptly relayed to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as to the White House and Congress. The timing of Austin’s hospitalization raises questions about his scheduled departure for Brussels on Tuesday, where he was slated to convene a meeting of the Ukraine contact group, established in 2022 to coordinate military aid for Kyiv in the wake of Russia’s invasion, followed by attendance at a regular meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Austin’s health struggles began with his prostate cancer diagnosis in December, leading to a prostatectomy procedure on December 22. However, complications soon arose, prompting his admission to Walter Reed’s intensive care unit on January 1. He remained hospitalized until January 15 before transitioning to recovery and remote work from home, with a return to the Pentagon on January 29.

Despite assurances from his medical team regarding his favorable prognosis against cancer and the absence of further treatment requirements, Austin’s continued health challenges have necessitated follow-up visits to Walter Reed. However, this latest unscheduled hospitalization marks the first such instance directly related to ongoing complications from his cancer treatments.

The revelation of Austin’s cancer diagnosis and initial hospitalization was not disclosed to President Joe Biden, Congress, or his deputy defense secretary until weeks later, sparking an inspector general investigation and an internal Pentagon review. While Austin has denied instructing his staff to keep his hospitalization under wraps, the secrecy surrounding his health has garnered scrutiny amid his critical role as Defense Secretary.

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