Deputy Who Assumed Defense Secretary’s Duties Was Not Told About His Hospitalization For Days: Report
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin gives a press conference during the NATO Council Defence Ministers Session at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 12, 2023.
(Photo by SIMON WOHLFAHRT/AFP via Getty Images)

The deputy who took over some of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin‘s duties last week was kept in the dark about the Cabinet official’s hospitalization for days, according to a new report.

Defense officials told CNN that Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks and other top brass did not learn about what happened to Austin until Thursday, three days after the defense secretary was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

As noted by CNN, the Department of Defense (DoD) said Hicks assumed “certain operational responsibilities that require constant secure communications capabilities” on Tuesday. At the time, Hicks had already begun a vacation in Puerto Rico, and though the report said the deputy planned to return to Washington, D.C., on Friday, she opted to stay put because Austin was expected to resume his duties from the hospital.

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told the news outlet that it is “not uncommon” for the defense secretary to delegate certain responsibilities without explanation, and Hicks made “some routine operational and management decisions” over the past week. Ryder also emphasized that Austin “has no plans to resign.”

The DoD shocked the Pentagon press corps, lawmakers, and even reportedly White House officials on Thursday when it spread the word that Austin had been hospitalized on Monday evening for what the agency has described as “complications following a recent elective medical procedure.” By then, according to the statement, Austin was “recovering well” and expected to resume his full duties.

NBC News revealed that Austin spent four days in the intensive care unit while POLITICO reported Gen. C.Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was informed about the defense secretary’s situation on Tuesday, and acting Defense Undersecretary for Policy Sasha Baker attended a White House meeting in Austin’s place without knowing about his hospitalization.

A White House official told Reuters that President Joe Biden has “full confidence” in Austin and is “looking forward to him being back at the Pentagon. But a U.S. official told ABC News that Biden was exasperated by the lack of transparency and that there would be a review of the episode.

While Ryder has said there was an “evolving situation” in which “multiple factors” such as medical and privacy issues were considered, members of the media and Congress expressed outrage and demanded more information.

The board of directors of the Pentagon Press Association, a group for reporters covering the national security beat, sent a letter to DoD public affairs officials calling the late notice an “outrage” and requesting a meeting on the “troubling situation as soon as possible.” They also said Austin “has no claim to privacy in this situation.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement that said “the Department of Defense deliberately withheld the Secretary of Defense’s medical condition for days. That is unacceptable.”

The DoD released a statement from the defense secretary on Saturday, sharing that he was recovering and expressing contrition for how the situation had been handled.


“I want to thank the amazing doctors and nursing staff at Walter Reed for the exceptional care they have delivered to me and for the personal warmth they have shown my family. I also appreciate all the outreach and well wishes from colleagues and friends. Charlene and I are very grateful for your support,” he said, referring to his wife.

“I am very glad to be on the mend and look forward to returning to the Pentagon soon,” Lloyd added. “I also understand the media concerns about transparency and I recognize I could have done a better job ensuring the public was appropriately informed. I commit to doing better. But this is important to say: this was my medical procedure, and I take full responsibility for my decisions about disclosure.”

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