Pentagon: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year's Day

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year’s Day following surgery, although the Department of Defense only confirmed the news Friday. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year’s Day following surgery, although the Department of Defense only confirmed the news Friday. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
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Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was hospitalized on New Year's Day following surgery, although the Department of Defense has only recently confirmed the news.

Austin, 70, is expected to resume his full duties at the end of next week, according to a statement issued Friday by the Pentagon.

"Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for complications following a recent elective medical procedure," Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in the statement.

"At all times, the Deputy Secretary of Defense was prepared to act for and exercise the powers of the Secretary, if required."

The Pentagon did not specify what type of surgery Austin had or when he would be discharged.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, 70, is expected to resume his full duties next week, according to a statement issued by the Pentagon. File Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DoD/UPI
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, 70, is expected to resume his full duties next week, according to a statement issued by the Pentagon. File Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DoD/UPI

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was sworn into the role in 2021 and is currently the highest-ranking woman in the Defense Department.

"Of note, the secretary did not have to affirmatively delegate his duties because by statute, the deputy secretary is automatically authorized to perform the duties of the secretary if he is unable to perform them," Ryder told the Washington Post.

The Pentagon did not confirm what caused Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to be hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The Pentagon did not confirm what caused Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to be hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

The delayed news from the Pentagon about Austin's health drew criticism from some circles.

The Pentagon Press Association wrote in an open letter to Ryder and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Chris Meagher complaining about the situation.

Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was prepared to exercise the powers of the secretary, if required, the Pentagon said in a statement. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was prepared to exercise the powers of the secretary, if required, the Pentagon said in a statement. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI

"The public has a right to know when U.S. Cabinet members are hospitalized, under anesthesia or when duties are delegated as the result of any medical procedure," the press group said. "That has been the practice even up to the president's level. As the nation's top defense leader, Secretary Austin has no claim to privacy in this situation."

The group requested a meeting with the Pentagon officials "to discuss this troubling situation as soon as possible."

Austin is a retired four-star U.S. Army General and the first Black man to hold the title of Secretary of Defense.

Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker is third in line to lead the Defense Department should both Austin and Hicks become unavailable to perform their duties.