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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin: "Complications as a result of a non-urgent medical procedure"

Photo: Violeta Santos Moura / REUTERS

For U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a hospital stay becomes a problem retrospectively: The Pentagon chief had been admitted to a clinic on New Year's Day because of complications after a medical procedure - but kept his stay of several days secret. It was only last Friday that his ministry publicly informed about the situation. Even the White House and U.S. President Joe Biden are said to have been informed about the hospital stay only with a delay of several days.

Austin has been criticized for this for days. On Saturday, he apologized for his behavior. In a written statement, it said it understood the concerns about the lack of transparency. "And I acknowledge that I could have done a better job of informing the public adequately."

Mike Pence criticizes Austin's actions as "unacceptable"

Austin had been admitted to Walter Reed Military Hospital near Washington on the evening of January 1. The reason was "complications as a result of a non-urgent medical procedure," ministry spokesman Pat Ryder said on Friday. Ryder did not provide details at the time about the length of the hospital stay or the nature of the complications. The Minister of Defense is now also under criticism because of the sparse information.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized Austin's actions as "unacceptable." The Republican told CNN on Sunday that Americans have a right to be informed about the minister's health – especially if the Pentagon chief is out of action for several days "at a time when our allies in Eastern Europe and Israel are at war." The fact that he had not informed the president was a "dereliction of duty".

The Defense Ministry's statement on Friday said the Deputy Defense Secretary was always on standby to act on behalf of the head of the department and exercise his powers if necessary. Several U.S. media outlets, including NBC, cite government sources, report that Austin's deputy, Kathleen Hicks, stepped in from vacation in Puerto Rico and took over some tasks from there.