Staffers for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were limited in a number of ways while he was hospitalized last month as the public, the press and the White House were unaware of what was happening for several days but that there was no ill intent, according to the findings of a 30-day review of the communication breakdown that was released Monday.

An internal review of the transfer of authority during Austin’s hospitalization found that concerns about medical privacy and a rapidly fluid situation contributed to why Austin’s hospitalization was kept secret, the summary said. 

Austin was hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Jan. 1 for an infection related to a bladder issue that stemmed from prostate cancer surgery performed in December. The Pentagon has been heavily criticized for waiting to inform the White House, Congress and the public about the episode. 


U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Israel

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized in January, but the stay was kept secret for several days.  (Reuters/Violeta Santos Moura)

Despite the delay, President Biden has stood by Austin. 

During his hospital stay, Austin transferred his duites to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, who was on leave in Puerto Rico, on Jan. 2, the day after he was admitted. However, neither she nor the White House knew he had been hospitalized until two days later. Congress and the public weren’t informed until Jan. 5.

A three-page summary of the review’s findings said there was no “indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate.” However, Austin’s staff was “significantly” limited in three ways.

“Medical privacy laws prohibited medical providers from candid sharing of medical information with the Secretary’s staff. Second, for privacy reasons, his staff were hesitant to pry or share any information that they did learn,” the summary states. “Third, the Secretary’s medical situation remained in flux and as long as he remained in the Critical Care Unit, timely secured communications could not be assured.”

U.S. President Joe Biden

A new Washington Post report warned the Biden administration that Democratic Party voters becoming more hawkish on immigration will pose a challenge to its 2024 re-election. (Photographer: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

After returning to work, Austin took the blame for the communication breakdown, saying he was responsible for decisions not to disclose his health status. 


“We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right,” he said in a news conference at the time. “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public. And I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”

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