Secretary Admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center on New Year’s Day
US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has been hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since January 1st due to complications arising from a routine medical procedure, the Pentagon revealed on January 5th.
Austin, 70, underwent an elective outpatient surgery on December 30th to address lingering issues from a injury. While initial recovery went well, Austin began experiencing post-surgical complications a few days later that required admission to Walter Reed over the New Year holiday weekend for monitoring and treatment by doctors there.
The Defense Department provided few details on Austin’s condition over the past week, waiting 5 days before disclosing his hospitalization. Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reports Austin was “recovering well” but would remain at Walter Reed “for further observation and treatment.”
Surgery Complications A “Curveball No One Expected”
Sources say Austin and the Pentagon leadership were caught off guard by a turn of events no one anticipated from what was considered a low-risk procedure. “It was a curveball no one expected,” said one official close to Austin. The secretary’s condition prompted senior leaders to immediately scale back his schedule as doctors work to resolve the unspecified complications.
There is no indication at this time that Austin’s health issues are life-threatening or demand urgent intervention. However, the setback will force him to hand over decisions on at least 2 overseas missions to top Pentagon deputies in coming weeks while recovering.
|Secretary Austin’s Medical Timeline
|December 30: Outpatient surgery
|January 1: Readmitted to Walter Reed Medical Center
|January 5: Hospitalization publicly disclosed
Defense analyst Paul McCleary suggests that while concerning, Austin’s absence should not greatly impact Pentagon operations. “The building’s on pretty firm ground right now,” McCleary said, noting much of Austin’s foreign policy work involves consulting with President Biden rather than unilateral moves.
Hospital Stay Overlaps Sensitive Military Operations
Austin’s bad timing will sideline him during some imminent actions abroad, including a new push assisting Ukraine’s fight against Russia and the one year anniversary of the Chinese spy balloon shot down off South Carolina. His duties overseeing those efforts will shift to deputy Pat Shanahan for the near future.
The secretary was described as disappointed but compliant with his doctor’s advice, asking staff to keep him updated regularly on work matters from the hospital. An unnamed official who visited Austin reported finding him “in good spirits, resting comfortably and very much still in command.”
While missing some key meetings, the secretary has continued engaging daily with top aides like Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and communicated multiple times with President Biden personally.
Full Recovery Ahead After Resolving Complications
Walter Reed physicians offered an optimistic prognosis for Austin’s eventual recovery, pending successful treatment of his postsurgical issues in the coming days or weeks. They project releasing him once certain metrics related to the complications stabilize.
Until then Secretary Austin remains eager to get back to normal duties but committed first and foremost per medical guidance to addressing health problems stemming from December’s surgery. In a statement Austin said, “I’m in excellent hands here at ‘the Wounded Warrior plantation,’ as President Bush calls it. I look forward to rejoining our mission soon.”
What Comes Next?
All indications point to Lloyd Austin making a complete recovery in due time after this medical speed bump. Moving forward, doctors’ timetables will dictate when he resumes his busy schedule leading the Defense Department.
For now, uncertainty continues around what exactly went wrong from Austin’s initial procedure to land him back at Walter Reed on New Year’s Day. But sources universally attest this stems from unpredictable surgery risks rather than negligence by physicians.
Deputy Shanahan and Gen. Milley will fill the gap created by Austin’s absence on some foreign policy and military matters. Yet they defer any major pivot in strategy to the secretary, anticipating his return post-recovery.
When Secretary Austin is back on his feet after resolving ongoing complications, he’ll play catch up getting reacquainted with missed developments during convalescence. Putin’s escalations in Ukraine and anniversary events around the Chinese spy balloon incident will surely top that agenda.
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