Austin’s Mysterious Hospital Stay Could Empower US Rivals, According to Experts

( — The 70-year-old Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was missing from his duties for several days before anyone questioned or even noticed he was not there. While it is not unusual for high-level government officials to have others stand in for them for meetings, it is unusual for them to not inform anyone that they will be absent from their duties for longer stretches of time. At first, there was a maelstrom of questions about where he had been and why he had not informed anyone. Once it was discovered that he had been hospitalized for an elective procedure, there were questions regarding his health and even his fitness for duty.

It has since been revealed that he was checked into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 22 for an elective medical procedure to help with his prostate cancer, which government officials were also unaware of. Complications arose after the surgery, and he was returned to the hospital and kept there longer than he had anticipated. Austin’s deputy, Kathleen Hicks, was on vacation in Puerto Rico and was apparently not informed in advance that he was going to have surgery. He resumed his usual duties remotely on Friday, January 5.

The fallout from the situation is far from over, though. Some believe that the US misplacing its Defense Secretary for several days may indicate weakness and disorganization to international rivals. A spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, pointed out that the incident is a challenge to the administration’s credibility. The White House was not aware of Austin’s hospitalization until Thursday, January 4.

Robert Greenway, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security, says the incident has eroded trust in the administration and added that, as far as he’s aware, there has never been another time where the secretary of defense was hospitalized for days without the knowledge of the president. Many are calling for Austin’s removal from office. On Monday, January 8, the Pentagon ordered a 30-day review of the notification process. Austin’s chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, who was sick herself when Austin was admitted to the hospital for his original procedure, says that there will be immediate changes to make sure that the White House will be notified immediately of such things in the future.

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