Pentagon chief Austin remains hospitalized, will not travel to Brussels for Ukraine, NATO meetings

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled his trip to Brussels to meet with NATO ministers and work on Ukraine’s military aid as he remains in the hospital while dealing with further health concerns following prostate cancer surgery, the Pentagon said Monday .

Austin, 70, was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday afternoon to treat bladder problems and admitted to the intensive care unit. It was his second hospitalization this year in Walter Reed’s intensive care unit after surgery in December.

He underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia on Monday to address the bladder problem, his doctors said in a Pentagon statement.

“We expect a successful recovery and will monitor him closely tonight,” the statement said. “A prolonged hospital stay is not expected.”

Austin was scheduled to travel to Brussels on Tuesday to attend a regular meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a gathering of about 50 countries to coordinate military aid to Kiev. That meeting will now take place virtually, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

Austin plans to attend that virtual meeting, but if his condition prevents him from participating, he will be represented by Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Monday that he did not know whether President Joe Biden had spoken directly to Austin since he was hospitalized, but that the president remained confident in his ability to serve .

The way the Pentagon handled Austin’s latest hospitalization is in stark contrast to the way it handled his initial diagnosis and treatment in December, which Austin and a few select members of his staff kept secret from almost everyone, including Biden . Austin has since apologized.

The decisions surrounding not sharing that information with the president or the public are still under review by the Pentagon’s inspector general. A separate internal investigation by the Defense Department has been completed but not yet made public.

It was not immediately clear whether this bladder problem was the result of his treatment for prostate cancer or a new health problem. In their statement, Austin’s doctors said this is not expected to change his expected full recovery, and that Austin’s “cancer prognosis remains excellent.”

Austin transferred his powers to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks on Sunday.

After the meeting in Ukraine, he was due to attend a regular meeting of NATO defense ministers, also in Brussels. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julie Smith will represent Austin at that meeting Thursday, Ryder said.

In January, Austin spent two weeks at Walter Reed after being taken there by ambulance in extreme pain following complications from his prostate cancer surgery in December.


Zeke Miller contributed to this story.