Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cancels overseas trip following hospitalization

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(NEW YORK) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled a trip to Brussels this week following his hospitalization due to "an emergent bladder issue," a U.S. defense official said Monday.

The Pentagon had announced last week that Austin would be traveling to Brussels to attend a monthly meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the more than 50 countries providing military aid to Ukraine, and a separate meeting of NATO defense ministers.

News of Austin's hospitalization on Sunday had raised questions as to whether Austin would be healthy enough to continue with that planned travel.

"The secretary will no longer travel to Brussels and Wednesday's Ukraine Defense Contact Group will now be held virtually," the U.S. defense official told ABC News.

Austin's latest hospitalization on Sunday was made public shortly after his security detail took him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center seeking care for the new issue that appeared tied to his secret hospitalization in early January for complications resulting from a surgical procedure to treat his prostate cancer.

"At approximately 4:55 pm today, Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks," Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement, updating the public early Thursday evening. "The Deputy Secretary of Defense has assumed the functions and duties. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and Congress have been notified."

Late Sunday night, Austin's doctors at Walter Reed -- Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chesnut -- said he had been admitted to the critical care unit.

"Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was transported by his security detail to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be seen for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue. Tonight, after a series of tests and evaluations, the Secretary was admitted into the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for supportive care and close monitoring," their statement read.

"At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized. The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent. Updates on the Secretary's condition will be provided as soon as possible," their statement concluded.

The defense secretary previously underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure for prostate cancer on Dec. 22, which led to a urinary tract infection and serious intestinal complications. He was hospitalized again on Jan. 1, but the White House didn't learn of it for three days -- secrecy that sparked intense scrutiny and criticism.

"I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis, and should also have told my team and the American public," Austin told reporters earlier this month. "I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people."

Austin also spoke in personal terms about his health challenges.

"The news shook me, as I know that it shakes so many others, especially in the Black community. It was a gut punch," he said then. "And frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private. I don't think it's news that I'm a pretty private guy. I never like burdening others with my problems. It's just not my way."

President Joe Biden has publicly faulted Austin for not informing him earlier of his hospitalization after his cancer procedure, telling reporters in January that he still had confidence in Austin but noted it was a lapse in judgment.

Austin has said he directly apologized to Biden and told him he was "deeply sorry" for not letting him know of his diagnosis immediately.

An internal review as well as an investigation by the Defense Department inspector general are ongoing.

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler contributed to this report.


Monday, February 12, 2024 at 12:57PM by Adam Carlson, Luis Martinez and Anne Flaherty, ABC News Permalink