A Pentagon mystery: Why was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay kept secret for days?

(Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press)

A Pentagon mystery: Why was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s hospital stay kept secret for days?


January 6, 2024

Members of Congress and Pentagon leaders were unaware for days that Defense Secretary Lloyd




had been hospitalized since Monday, U.S. officials said Saturday, as questions swirled about his condition and the secrecy surrounding it.

And it remained unclear when the White House and other key U.S. officials learned about his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Pentagon’s failure to make Austin’s hospitalization public for days reflects a stunning lack of transparency about his illness, how serious it was and when he might be released. Such secrecy, at a time when the United States is facing numerous national security crises, goes against normal practice among the president and other senior U.S. officials and Cabinet members.

Austin, 70, remained hospitalized due to complications following a minor medical procedure, his press secretary said, as it became clear how closely the Pentagon had information about his stay at Walter Reed.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been notified of Austin’s hospitalization, but he would not say when that happened.

Some U.S. officials said Saturday that many of the Pentagon’s top brass were unaware Austin was in the hospital until Friday. Officials said President Biden and other senior White House staff had been notified, but officials would not specify when. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Ryder said members of Congress were notified late Friday afternoon, and other officials said lawmakers were notified after 5 p.m. It was not clear when key senior members of Austin’s staff were notified, but many employees across the Pentagon found out when the department released a statement. about Austin’s hospital stay just minutes after 5 p.m. Many thought Austin was on vacation for a week.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, who took over when Austin was hospitalized, was also gone. A U.S. official said she had a communications system with her in Puerto Rico that allowed her to do the work while Austin, who spent 41 years in the military and retired in 2016 as a four-star Army general, was incapacitated.

Ryder said Saturday that Austin is recovering well and resumed full duties from his hospital bed Friday evening. Asked why the hospital stay was kept secret for so long, Ryder said Friday that the situation is developing and that the Pentagon has not made Austin’s absence public due to privacy and medical concerns. Ryder declined to provide further details about Austin’s medical procedure or health.

The White House has declined to say when or how it was notified of Austin’s hospitalization. She referred questions to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon Press Assn., which represents media members who cover the Defense Department, sent a letter of protest Friday evening to Ryder and Chris Meagher, the assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs.

The fact that he has been at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four days and the Pentagon is only now alerting the public late Friday night is a shame.

press association

said in his letter. At a time when there are increasing threats to U.S. military personnel in the Middle East and the U.S. plays a major national security role in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly important that the American public is informed about the health status and decision-making capabilities of its top defense leader.

Other senior U.S. leaders have been much more transparent about hospital stays. When Atty. General Merrick Garland underwent a routine medical procedure in 2022. His office informed the public a week in advance, outlining how long he was expected to be away and when he would return to work.

Austin’s hospitalization comes as Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly launched drones, rockets and missiles at bases where U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq and Syria, prompting several pushback from the Biden administration. These attacks are often accompanied by sensitive discussions and top-level decisions by Austin and other key military leaders.

The US is also the main organizer behind a new international maritime coalition using ships and other assets to patrol the southern Red Sea to deter continued attacks on commercial ships by Houthi militants in Yemen.

In addition, the administration, and Austin in particular, has spearheaded efforts to supply weapons and training to Ukraine.


also communicated regularly with the Israelis about their war against Hamas.


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