Austin Receives Bladder Treatment at Walter Reed in Latest Hospitalization Since Cancer Diagnosis

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III conducts a press briefing
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, 2024. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was put under general anesthesia Monday as he received non-surgical treatment for bladder issues a day after being admitted to the hospital for the third time in as many months, officials from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center said in a statement released by the Pentagon.

"We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight," Dr. John Maddox, trauma medical director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha Cancer Center, said in the statement.

The hospitalization for bladder issues is the latest chapter in a growing collection of health issues Austin has faced since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December – a diagnosis he initially kept secret. The secrecy about the cancer, surgery to treat the cancer and a January hospitalization for complications from the surgery caused a scandal that continues to reverberate around D.C.

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The Monday statement did not specify how long Austin is expected to be hospitalized this time, but the doctors said a "prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated."

In a press briefing after the statement was released, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder could not answer more detailed questions about Austin's condition, instead repeatedly directing reporters to the statement from the doctors.

The Pentagon announced Sunday afternoon that Austin had been taken to the hospital because he was experiencing "symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue." While the Pentagon initially said Austin would keep his authorities as defense secretary, it later said he had transferred those authorities to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks.

And late Sunday night, the Walter Reed doctors added that Austin had been admitted to the critical care unit for "supportive care and close monitoring."

Austin's hospitalization is his second time back at Walter Reed in as many months. He was previously admitted to the hospital Jan. 1 for what officials later revealed were complications from the earlier surgery to treat prostate cancer.

The January hospitalization caused a firestorm in Washington, D.C., because Austin initially hid his condition, including from the White House and President Joe Biden. Despite Austin being diagnosed with prostate cancer in December and getting surgery that month, Biden, Congress and the public weren't informed until days after his January hospitalization.

The secrecy surrounding the earlier hospitalizations prompted an internal Pentagon review, an inspector general investigation and a congressional probe. The internal Pentagon review is complete and awaiting Austin's approval before being released, the department said last week. In a press briefing earlier this month, Austin apologized for how he initially handled the situation.

This time, the White House and Congress were notified Austin was being taken to the hospital before he left, Ryder said Monday. The White House ordered new notification procedures after the secrecy of Austin's earlier hospitalization.

Ryder could not answer whether the most recent bladder issues are another complication of Austin's December surgery or a complication of the cancer itself. He also could not say how long Austin was under general anesthesia, what symptoms he was experiencing that prompted him to go to the hospital, or what specific procedures he underwent Monday.

Austin's doctors expect him to be well enough Tuesday to resume his "normal" duties, according to the statement from Maddox and Chesnut.

The bladder issues are also not expected to change Austin's anticipated full recovery from cancer, for which his prognosis is "excellent," the doctors said in the statement.

Despite the optimistic tone of the statement and predictions of a quick recovery, Austin has canceled one major commitment this week. He was supposed to travel to Brussels for a meeting with international defense leaders to discuss support for Ukraine, as well as for a meeting with NATO defense ministers.

The Ukraine meeting will now be virtual, and Austin is planning to participate virtually "depending on his health care status," Ryder said. The last Ukraine meeting in January was also virtual because of Austin’s health issues. Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, will step in for Austin at the NATO meeting, Ryder added.

Related: Defense Secretary Austin Hospitalized with Bladder Issue, Transfers Powers to His Deputy

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