Pentagon: Austin Recovering, Making Progress After Surgery Complications


By C. Todd Lopez

The Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III remains at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, while he recovers from complications related to a mid-December surgery to treat prostate cancer.

According to doctors at Walter Reed, Austin underwent surgery Dec. 22 to treat prostate cancer, which had been detected earlier in the month following a regular screening.

Dr. John Maddox, director of trauma medical, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha Cancer Center, both at Walter Reed, released a statement earlier today regarding Austin’s response to that surgery. 

“Secretary Austin recovered uneventfully from his surgery and returned home the next morning,” they wrote. “His prostate cancer was detected early, and his prognosis is excellent.” 

On Monday of last week, Austin’s doctors said, the secretary was admitted to Walter Reed with complications related to that earlier surgery. Those complications included nausea, along with abdominal, hip and leg pain. In response to those complications, Austin underwent additional treatment at Walter Reed, and he remains there recovering from those additional procedures. 

“He has progressed steadily throughout his stay,” Maddox and Chesnut wrote in their statement. “His infection has cleared. He continues to make progress and we anticipate a full recovery, although this can be a slow process.” 

As of Tuesday afternoon, Austin remains at Walter Reed and continues to perform his duties as the secretary of defense. 

“Secretary Austin continues to recover well and remains in good spirits,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing today. “He’s in contact with his senior staff and has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide. At this time I do not have any information to provide in terms of when he might be released from the hospital.”

The department will continue to release daily status updates of Austin’s condition, Ryder said. 

“We in the Department of Defense, of course, wish him a speedy recovery,” Ryder said. 

DOD Transparency 

After Austin’s admission to Walter Reed last week, the Defense Department failed to properly notify appropriate parties, including President Joe Biden, about the secretary’s condition. Ryder said the department is now looking into that breakdown in communications so that it will not happen again.

“The department recognizes the understandable concerns expressed by the public, Congress and the news media in terms of notification timelines and DOD transparency,” Ryder said. “I want to underscore again that Secretary Austin has taken responsibility for the issues with transparency and the department is taking immediate steps to improve our notification procedures.”

Ryder said Austin’s chief of staff directed the DOD’s director of administration and management to conduct a 30-day review of the department’s notification process for assumption of functions and duties of the secretary of defense. 

“While the review is underway and effective immediately, the chief of staff also directed several actions to ensure increased situational awareness about any transfer of authorities from the secretary of defense,” Ryder said.

Part of that, he said, includes ensuring that the DOD’s general counsel, the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commanders, service secretaries, service chiefs of staff, the White House and senior staff of the secretary and deputy secretary of defense are all notified if the secretary is unable to perform his duties, and that related notification for transfer of authorities includes an explanation of the reason. 

“Nothing is more important to the secretary of defense and the Department of Defense than the trust and confidence of the American people and the public we serve and we’ll continue to work hard every day to earn and deserve that trust,” Ryder said.

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