Sec Def Makes First Public Appearance Since Covert Hospitalization, Omits Mention Of His Health Situation
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin speaks during an in-person Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base, southwestern Germany, on April 21, 2023.
(Photo by ANDRE PAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a public appearance on Tuesday, his first since the controversy over his secretive hospitalization, and opted not to mention his health situation in a break with his script.

The Cabinet official beamed into a virtual meeting of a group focused on discussing support for Ukraine to deliver an opening statement in which Austin deviated from prepared remarks that were published by the Department of Defense (DoD).

Austin was expected to say, “As you can tell, I’m joining from home today. I’m feeling good and looking forward to being back at the Pentagon very soon. And I’m grateful for all of your warm wishes,” but he skipped that part to get right into talking about Ukraine.

During a press briefing, a reporter asked Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder why Austin did not mention being at home or address his health in his first public appearance since being released from the hospital.

“It’s his prerogative on any remarks that he gives to amend those in delivery,” Ryder said. “I will say I am glad that everyone was able to watch his remarks about the impact of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and the important work that it’s doing to save lives from Russia’s illegal and unprovoked aggression.”

Austin, 70, was hospitalized on January 1 for complications following a December procedure to treat prostate cancer. He faced blowback when it emerged that many top officials, including President Joe Biden and the deputy who took on some of his duties, were not privy to his health situation for days.


Several investigations, including a probe by the Department of Defense’s inspector general, a White House review of Cabinet protocols, and an inquiry in the GOP-led House, have been announced. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and former President Donald Trump have called for Austin to resign or be fired over the controversy. Austin is also being called to testify before Congress.

The DoD announced last week that Austin was being released from the hospital, ending a roughly two-week stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Austin said he would continue to perform his duties from home as he recuperates.

White House officials have insisted that Biden has “complete confidence” in Austin, who has said he takes responsibility for the lack of disclosure, and they emphasized that the president plans to keep the secretary in place through the remainder of his term despite it being “not optimal” that the commander-in-chief and other leaders did not know what happened for so long.

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