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Austin returns to Walter Reed for apparent medical issue, transfers duties

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday afternoon for an apparent medical issue, the Pentagon announced Sunday. He transferred his duties to his deputy.

Austin, 70, was transported by his security detail to Walter Reed in Maryland around 2:20 p.m. on Sunday after experiencing symptoms “suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Sunday.

The deputy secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were notified, and notifications were also sent to the White House and Congress, Ryder added.

Ryder originally said Austin would be “retaining” his functions and duties of the office, while the deputy secretary is prepared should they need to assume duties. However, later Sunday evening the Pentagon said Austin had transferred his duties to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

It comes just under two weeks after Austin’s Jan. 29 return to the Pentagon after a weeks-long hospitalization in early January.

He was hospitalized on Jan. 1 for an infection stemming from a Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer. The New Year’s emergency placed Austin in the intensive care unit (ICU) for days and forced Austin to carry out his duties from home for nearly two weeks after being released from Walter Reed.

His hospitalization sparked controversy on Capitol Hill after lawmakers learned the White House and Hicks were not made aware of his hospitalization until Jan. 4. Austin did not reveal his prostate cancer diagnosis until Jan. 9, nearly a month after an early December health screening discovered the cancer.

Austin earlier this month apologized for his failure to notify administration officials and admitted he “did not handle this right.”

He told reporters he never directed his staff to keep secret the hospitalization at Walter Reed, but acknowledged his failure to notify.

“I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” Austin said during a Feb. 1 press conference. “I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”

The incident prompted the Pentagon to launch a 30-day internal review of policies and procedures, while the Department of Defense inspector general is also investigating the incident.

The White House has already changed its policy based on the incident and ordered Cabinet secretaries to notify when they are unable to perform their duties.

In the wake of mounting scrutiny from House GOP defense hawks and a formal inquiry by House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Austin has agreed to testify on Feb. 29 before the committee.

Updated at 8:12 pm.

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