US defence chief Austin hospitalised again, transfers duties to deputy

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US defence chief Austin hospitalised again, transfers duties to deputy

Pentagon says defence chief receiving care for ‘symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue’.

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalised for the second time in a month, the Pentagon has announced, after an earlier hospital stay that attracted criticism for lacking transparency.

Austin, who underwent treatment for prostate cancer last year, was transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over “symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue”, the Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday.

Austin, 70, “transferred the functions and duties of the office” to Deputy Defence Secretary Kathleen Hicks, the statement said.

Austin’s hospitalisation comes after he faced criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for failing to disclose his cancer diagnosis and subsequent hospital admissions to President Joe Biden, Congress or his deputy for weeks.

Austin, whose absences coincided with security crises in the Middle East and Ukraine, apologised earlier this month for not being more transparent about his health issues.

“I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” he told journalists on February 1.

Biden has rejected calls to fire Austin despite agreeing that the defence chief had a lapse of judgement.

Austin, a former four-star general who led troops in Iraq, was hospitalised on January 1 after suffering complications from cancer surgery he underwent a week earlier.

He stayed in hospital for two weeks and worked from home for another two weeks as he continued his recovery.

Austin’s handling of the situation is the subject of three investigations, including one by the office of the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

Austin was scheduled to leave for Brussels on Tuesday to hold a meeting of an alliance established to coordinate military support for Ukraine as it fights back against Russia’s invasion.

It was not immediately clear if Austin’s trip would go ahead following his hospitalisation.