Tactical

Austin agrees to testify before Congress about his medical missteps

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will testify before lawmakers on Feb. 29 about the secrecy surrounding his cancer diagnosis and missteps made in informing senior administration officials about his emergency hospitalization in January, congressional sources said.

Officials from the House Armed Services Committee had initially planned to question Austin at a hearing on Feb. 14, but Austin was non-committal about appearing at that event when asked about it during a Feb. 1 press conference at the Pentagon.

Committee leaders confirmed the new date and Austin’s planned attendance on Tuesday. Politico first reported the news.

Austin, 70, was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Jan. 1 after developing a urinary tract infection from complications related to prostate cancer surgery on Dec. 22.

Senior military leaders were not informed of his condition until several days later, and White House officials — including President Joe Biden — were not made aware the defense secretary was hospitalized until Jan. 5. They also were not informed of his cancer diagnosis until Jan. 9, nearly a month after the illness was discovered.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks assumed certain authorities of the defense secretary while Austin was in the hospital, but wasn’t informed of the reasons for that change.

Austin has acknowledged communication mistakes in his handling of the incident. During his Feb. 1 news conference, he said the decision was “more about privacy than secrecy,” but said that “I should have informed my boss” about the health situation.

White House officials have backed Austin, but also moved to ensure that future health issues with Cabinet secretaries are handled better.

Numerous members of Congress have called for Austin’s resignation as a result of the incident, suggesting his poor communication could have endangered national security.

The House Armed Services Committee hearing is scheduled one week before Biden’s scheduled State of the Union address, and eight days before Defense Department funding is scheduled to run out unless a budget extension is adopted by Congress.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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