It has been stated that Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who temporarily took over some of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s responsibilities, was not notified of Austin’s illness for several days—a recent and unusual development inside the U.S. Department of Defense. Concerns and queries concerning the department’s transparency and protocol have been brought up by this lack of communication.
Sources claim that on a Monday night, Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as a result of difficulties from an elective surgery. But Austin’s illness was not disclosed to Hicks or other high-ranking military officials until the following Thursday, three days after his admission.
While on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, Hicks took on “certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities.” Even though these were vital tasks, she wasn’t notified right away that Austin’s condition had changed. Hicks had intended to travel back to Washington, D.C. on Friday, but opted to stay in Puerto Rico because Austin was anticipated to carry out his responsibilities from the hospital, it was said.
Regarding the matter, Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said that it is usual for the defense secretary to assign duties without giving a reason. Ryder further stated that Austin is not planning to step down, that he is recuperating well, and that he anticipates returning to full duty in the near future.
Reactions have been mixed due to the White House and other important authorities being kept in the dark about Austin’s illness. Through a White House representative, President Joe Biden reaffirmed his complete trust in Austin and said he looked forward to his return to the Pentagon. But according to a second U.S. official, Biden became frustrated with the lack of transparency around the occurrence, which prompted an investigation into the incident.
The news of Austin’s health being announced so late infuriated the Pentagon Press Association, which represents journalists covering national security. They want to speak with public affairs representatives from the DoD about the “troubling situation.” Ranking Senate Armed Services Committee member Senator Roger Wicker also blasted the Department of Defense for willfully hiding information regarding Austin’s physical condition.
Austin issued a statement in response to the mounting worries, admitting the need for greater openness and assuming complete accountability for the choices he made in disclosing his medical procedure. He conveyed his appreciation for the help and consideration he had received and pledged to do better in the future at communicating.
This incident brings to light the difficulties and demands for transparency in high-level government activities, particularly with regard to the availability and well-being of important national security officials.