US Defense Chief Leaves Hospital After Stay That Caused Uproar

(Bloomberg) -- US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from the hospital after a two-week stay to treat complications from prostate-cancer surgery, an episode that prompted calls for his resignation over his failure to tell the White House about his condition for several days.

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“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 Defense Department said Monday in an emailed statement.

In a separate statement, Austin said he was grateful for the care he received.

“Now, as I continue to recuperate and perform my duties from home, I’m eager to fully recover and return as quickly as possible to the Pentagon,” he said.

Austin, 70, didn’t reference the uproar surrounding his hospitalization or the calls from some Republicans to resign over the handling of his illness. He underwent a prostatectomy in December to treat prostate cancer and was taken to the hospital in “severe pain” a week later — on New Year’s Day — after developing a urinary tract infection and swelling that blocked his intestine.

But it wasn’t until about four days later that he told the White House he had been hospitalized, and he waited another week to tell President Joe Biden the reason.

The defense chief, who guards his privacy closely, later apologized for the way he handled the hospitalization. It also prompted both the Pentagon and White House to review protocols around appropriate notification when senior leaders are unavailable or incapacitated.

No Resignation

Biden has said he still has confidence in Austin and doesn’t want him to resign. But the episode provoked consternation in the White House, where advisers expressed befuddlement at Austin’s decisions and fretted that Biden risked looking like he had a poor grasp of his national security team for not realizing that his defense chief was absent for several days.

Austin’s release from the hospital may not mark the end of the furor. The House Armed Services Committee has announced it will investigate the issue.

Read More: Pentagon Under Pressure Over Defense Secretary Austin’s Absence

“With wars in Ukraine and Israel, the idea that the White House and even your own deputy did not understand the nature of your condition is patently unacceptable,” committee Chairman Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, wrote last week. “Everything from ongoing counterterrorism operations to nuclear command and control relies on a clear understanding of the secretary’s decision-making capacity.

Yet forcing Austin out would deprive the White House of a trusted military adviser at a time of great turbulence. Early in Austin’s hospitalization, the US killed a militant leader in Iraq in a drone strike, and late last week launched a series of air and missile strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen who have disrupted commercial shipping through the Red Sea.

During his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Austin underwent a series of medical tests and evaluations and received non-surgical care, including to resolve some lingering leg pain, according to Monday’s statement.

Austin returned home from Walter Reed and will receive physical therapy. There are no plans for further cancer treatment.

--With assistance from Nick Wadhams.

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