Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized for elective surgery complications

James Doubek
4 Min Read


Updated January 6, 2024 at 9:32 PM ET

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized starting on Monday for complications from elective surgery.

He remains hospitalized as of Saturday evening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Pentagon said.

Pentagon officials did not make a public announcement about Austin’s hospitalization until Friday. The secrecy is in contrast to the usual practice among the president and Cabinet members, who will generally provide notice of when they are stepping away from their official duties.

Austin said in a statement released Saturday evening: “I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon. I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

The Pentagon and Austin have not specified the nature of his medical procedure.

The defense secretary resumed his full duties on Friday. In the intervening days, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks “was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement on Friday.

NPR has confirmed that the Pentagon did not inform the White House about Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday, which was first reported by Politico.

The board of directors of the Pentagon Press Association, a group that represents journalists covering the military, said in a letter to Pentagon public affairs leaders that the delay in informing the public was an “outrage.”

“It falls far below the normal disclosure standards that are customary by other federal departments when senior officials undergo medical procedures or are temporarily incapacitated,” the group’s board said.

One Capitol Hill source told NPR that lawmakers received word of Austin’s hospitalization just a half hour before the Pentagon’s press release on Friday.

“We still haven’t been told specifics or anything more than what you saw [the Pentagon] say,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the lack of information was “unacceptable.”

“When one of the country’s two National Command Authorities [the president and secretary of defense] is unable to perform their duties, military families, Members of Congress, and the American public deserve to know the full extent of the circumstances,” he said in a statement.

NPR’s Tom Bowman contributed reporting.

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