Austin, a retired Army general known to be intensely private, did not inform his top aides at the Pentagon or the White House, including President Biden, when he received a cancer diagnosis in early December and underwent a prostatectomy on Dec. 22 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
Austin’s prostate cancer case spotlights broader silence around disease
A firestorm resulted once it was learned that Austin, 70, kept White House officials and his Pentagon deputy, who twice took over his duties during his treatment, in the dark when he developed significant problems related to the surgery. That prompted criticism from lawmakers of both parties. A congressional oversight committee has requested that he testify about the incident this month.
Austin’s illness occurred as the Biden administration contended with intensifying violence across the Middle East, a significant challenge to the president’s goal of containing instability linked to Israel’s war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
How Lloyd Austin’s medical mystery ignited a firestorm
On Sunday, a drone attack killed three service members and injured dozens more at an American outpost in Jordan, marking the first deaths of U.S. personnel from hostile fire since the Gaza war triggered a steep rise in hostility across the region. Biden has vowed to retaliate against the Iranian-back militants responsible for the assault in Jordan and more than 160 others targeting U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since October.
The Pentagon has conducted a series of airstrikes in both countries in recent weeks and has opened a military campaign against other Iranian-backed militants in Yemen who have upended commercial shipping off the Arabian Peninsula through numerous attacks on merchant ships.
Austin, who until this week worked from his home in Northern Virginia following his Jan. 15 release from Walter Reed, had acknowledged that he “could have done a better job” keeping the public, via the media, informed about his whereabouts and condition.
The Pentagon did not announce his hospitalization until four days after his readmission to Walter Reed and did not initially disclose he was in intensive care.