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The Sudden Absence of the Defense Secretary

Updated: Mar 31

By Bryan Meidt

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austion, via Politico


Recent revelations surrounding the hospitalization of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have cast a shadow over the Biden administration's handling of crucial defense matters and communication amongst government officials. On January 1st, 2024, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized at Walter Reed’s critical care unit due to “severe pain.” While this may not seem like anything too extreme, a strange situation seemed to arise from it. This medical emergency was kept a secret from many senior government officials including the Deputy Secretary of Defense and President Biden.

According to CNN, Secretary Austin had gone into the hospital previously on December 22nd and “underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure called a prostatectomy to treat and cute prostate cancer.” This cancer had been discovered in “early December” according to Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chestnut at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. The hospitalization on January 1st supposedly had a connection to the previously performed surgery. The secretary had various issues including nausea, abdominal pain, hip pain, leg pain, and a urinary tract infection.

            Not long after the readmittance, Secretary Austin delegated responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathy Hicks. The Wall Street Journal states that Deputy Secretary Hicks had already assumed some of Secretary Austin’s duties while on scheduled leave in Puerto Rico, which seems to be a familiar occurrence that Hicks deals with. However, she was never informed of the situation with the secretary and the severity of his medical condition. This led to an eruption in both the government and the media. Senators from the Republican party have come forward to emphasize the strange and severe problem that this situation has revealed. While it was previously stated that a few government officials did not know about the hospitalization, apparently it ended up being a lot more than just that. Senator James Lankford from Oklahoma stated during an appearance on Fox News that “apparently the National Security Council didn’t know it, the White  House didn’t know it, Congress didn’t know it… we’re at a time of a lot of turmoil internationally and suddenly had a secretary of Defense, more than just matter of wasn’t there, actually sent over false information saying ‘I’m working from home’ when he’s not actually available at all… that’s a whole different issue.” Some Democratic senators have declined to respond and give comments on the matter at hand, and some have also questioned the handling of the situation at hand. Antony Blinken, the secretary of State said that he was not aware of Austin’s medical condition at all. When asked about Austin’s transparency of national security officials, he simply said “I won’t get into hypotheticals.”

            While it may seem like Austin is getting picked at for this, nobody has discredited his capabilities as one of the country’s leaders. Austin is a former military commander and a retired Army general. That information in mind, it is not news that Austin is a very private person and is not a big fan of the press prying into his life. On top of that, he is self-aware and has made it known that he is working very hard to improve on his transparency issues. He made good progress recovering and is still very much capable of fulfilling his duties as the secretary of Defense. This has been stated by many people, ranging from security officials to military generals to President Biden himself.

            On the contrary, senators in Congress are still arguing with each other about Austin’s actions. Many senators believe that the public and Congress deserve some sort of official hearing from Austin that explains what exactly happened and if there will be any changes, as well as clarification on the transparency issues. Many Democratic senators have thrown dirt at Republicans, stating that they “want to play politics 24/7.” Some senators are more focused on making sure that Austin is healthy and successfully recovering rather than the political side of things, since Austin has a good reputation and is appreciated by many people in the government.

            While the situation was shaky, many things could be taken from it. The biggest priority is that Secretary Austin is okay, as cancer is a very difficult condition to overcome, and it especially should not be taken advantage of for political conflicts. The condition aside, this does raise the issue that there is some gap in the line of communication that is used in the Biden administration. The Biden administration is one of the most controversial presidential cabinets to have emerged in the American political world, and any kind of issue can be a big deal to both the politicians and the media. Though from the perspective of someone in the pollical world, the most notable thing is that Austin is still not only completely capable of fulfilling his duties but can continue his role as the nation’s Secretary of Defense.


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