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National Review
National Review
6 Jan 2024
Ari Blaff


NextImg:Pentagon Withheld Disclosing Defense Secretary’s Hospitalization to Congress and Press for Days

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 70, was hospitalized for nearly a week before members of Congress or the press were alerted to his absence.

Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on New Year’s Day due to “complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” Pentagon spokesman Major General Patrick Ryder said in a brief statement Friday. He is “recovering well and is expecting to resume his full duties today.” “At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required,” the terse official statement concluded.

According to several outlets, the Pentagon has refused to comment on whether the former head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) was in critical condition or unconscious at any time during his five-day hospitalization. Responding to a request for comment from The Messenger, Ryder chalked up the delayed announcement to the “evolving situation.”

“We had to consider a number of factors, including medical and personal privacy issues,” the spokesman explained. “Congressional notifications occurred late this afternoon.”

However, the Secretary’s nearly weeklong absence, coming against the backdrop of active wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, led members of the Pentagon Press Association to condemn the Department of Defense for its silence.

“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 professional body of journalists wrote to Ryder requesting a meeting. “The public has a right to know when U.S. Cabinet members are hospitalized, under anesthesia or when duties are delegated as the result of any medical procedure. That has been the practice even up to the president’s level. As the nation’s top defense leader, Secretary Austin has no claim to privacy in this situation.”

“At a time when there are growing threats to U.S. military service members in the Middle East and the U.S. is playing key national security roles in the wars in Israel and Ukraine, it is particularly critical for the American public to be informed about the health status and decision-making ability of its top defense leader,” the professional body wrote in a letter.