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Pentagon Chief Austin in critical care for bladder issue

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was admitted into critical care late Sunday with an apparent bladder issue, after being hospitalized for the second time in a month.    (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Alicia Diaz and Nick Wadhams Bloomberg News

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was admitted into critical care late Sunday with an apparent bladder issue, after being hospitalized for the second time in a month.

His security detail brought him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington with “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in a statement. Austin, who in January had been in for treatment for complications from prostate cancer, was moved “for supportive care and close monitoring,” according to a statement from Walter Reed physicians.

“At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized,” the physicians said. “The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery.”

The Pentagon chief has transferred the functions and duties of the office to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, according to a statement from the Pentagon. The White House and Congress were notified.

The fresh health scare comes weeks after Austin provoked an uproar for failing to disclose for several days that he’d been hospitalized on New Year’s Day for complications from prostate-cancer surgery.

Austin had been expected to attend the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of about 50 countries that have pledged to support Kyiv on Wednesday in Brussels and a meeting of NATO defense ministers Thursday.

Austin, 70, was released from his initial hospitalization on Jan. 15 after about two weeks. He later apologized for his secrecy around the illness, including his failure to notify President Joe Biden of his cancer diagnosis for several days. He returned to work at the Pentagon on Jan. 29 for the first time in almost a month.

The secrecy set off criticism from Congress as lawmakers demanded explanations from Austin. The Pentagon’s internal watchdog said it would investigate whether the Defense Department’s procedures are sufficient to ensure appropriate notifications and transfer of authority if a senior leader falls ill.

The White House said last month Austin had shown a lapse in judgment, though Biden said that he had confidence in Austin and wouldn’t ask him to resign.

Austin’s hospital stay drew particular attention because it occurred while US troops and commercial shipping faced attacks from Iran-backed militants in the Middle East, including Houthi rebels in Yemen who have been targeting vessels around the Red Sea. A day before Austin returned to the Pentagon, three US service members were killed at an outpost in Jordan that Biden blamed on Iranian-supported groups.

After Austin’s first hospitalization, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients detailed new procedures around absences, including that cabinet members must notify the White House chief of staff and the Office of Cabinet Affairs ahead of a hospitalization or medical procedure which requires general anesthesia.