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US defense secretary, in the ICU at Walter Reed, reassigns duties

Kathleen Hicks, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, took over Lloyd Austin's responsibilities while he is being treated for a bladder issue.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a joint statement on Oct. 13, 2023 at the Kirya in Tel Aviv with Yoav Galant, the Israeli minister of defense. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a joint statement on Oct. 13, 2023 at the Kirya in Tel Aviv with Yoav Galant, the Israeli minister of defense. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, is being treated “for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue” and is in the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Pentagon announced around midnight on the U.S. East Coast.

Austin is in the ICU for “supportive care and close monitoring” following “a series of tests and evaluations,” according to Dr. John Maddox, trauma medical director, and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, director of the Center for Prostate Disease Research of the Murtha cancer center at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md.

“At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized. The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery,” the physicians said. “His cancer prognosis remains excellent.” Updates on the secretary’s condition will be provided as soon as possible.”

Some four hours earlier, the Pentagon announced that Austin “transferred the functions and duties of the office of the secretary of defense” to Kathleen Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, at about 4:55 p.m. in Washington.

Although he did not do so last month, when there were “chain of command issues,” Austin notified the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House and Congress.

Earlier in the day, the Pentagon said that Austin traveled to the hospital “with the unclassified and classified communications systems necessary to perform his duties” and that at the time, he was working.

On Thursday, Austin spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant “to discuss post-conflict planning for Gaza, the need to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians in Gaza and West Bank stabilization efforts,” according to the Pentagon.

The secretary “reiterated the need to protect civilians as Israel conducts its operations against Hamas” and Austin and Gallant “also discussed the U.S. response to attacks against U.S. forces by Iranian-aligned militia groups,” according to the U.S. Defense Department readout of their call.

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