Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has resumed the full duties of his office and remains in contact with senior advisors as he continues to recover after experiencing complications from a recent elective medical procedure, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said today.
Austin remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, where Ryder said he is recovering and is in good spirits.
“Since resuming duties on Friday evening, the secretary has received operational updates and has provided necessary guidance,” Ryder said. “He has full access to required secure communications capabilities and continues to monitor [Defense Department] day-to-day operations worldwide.”
Austin was admitted to Walter Reed’s intensive care unit on the evening of Jan. 1, after experiencing severe pain following an elective medical procedure carried out at the same hospital on Dec. 22.
Upon being admitted, Austin underwent testing and evaluation. On Jan. 2, certain authorities were transferred to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks “due to the secretary’s condition, and on the basis of medical advice,” Ryder said.
Members of Austin and Hicks’ staff were notified that the transfer of authority had occurred through normal email notification procedures, he added.
On Jan. 4, Austin’s chief of staff notified Hicks and the White House National Security Advisor of the secretary’s hospitalization. Ryder noted that Austin’s chief of staff had been out sick with the flu, which caused the delay in notification.
Once notified of the hospitalization, Hicks “immediately engaged on drafting a public statement and congressional outreach,” alongside Austin’s chief of staff, Ryder said.
Congress was notified of the secretary’s hospitalization the following day, shortly before Ryder issued a statement notifying the media.
Ryder said the Defense Department is currently reviewing how it can improve its notification procedures, to include White House and congressional notifications.
“I want to underscore that Secretary Austin has taken responsibility for the issues with transparency, and the department will be taking steps to improve our notification procedures,” Ryder told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon today. “I’m also personally committed to keeping you informed.”
He added that “nothing is more important to the secretary of defense and the department than the trust and confidence of the American public we serve, and we will continue to work hard every day to earn and deserve that trust.”
While acting as the secretary, Hicks made routine operational and management decisions for the department “and was fully authorized and ready to support the president on other military matters should the need have arisen,” Ryder said.
Austin resumed his full duties as secretary on the evening of Jan. 5.
“He is no longer in the intensive care unit but is recovering in a more private area of the hospital,” Ryder said. “He continues to experience discomfort, but his prognosis is good.”
Ryder said the secretary would receive operational updates throughout the day.
“I expect him to be in contact throughout the day today with senior leadership of the department and the White House even as he focuses on his own recovery,” he said. “While we do not have a specific date for his release at this time, we’ll continue to provide updates on the secretary’s status as they become available.”
“We in the department, of course, all wish him a speedy recovery,” Ryder said.