Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) called on U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to be more forthcoming about the details of a secretive hospitalization on Tuesday, more than a week after the Pentagon chief was incapacitated without the White House’s knowledge.
“Secretary of Defense Austin apparently has been hospitalized since January 1. I am concerned about his health and shocked that the Pentagon and White House have not been more forthcoming about his condition or why he remains hospitalized,” Sen. Collins said in a written statement.
“It appears that even the President, his national security advisor, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense were unaware of Secretary Austin’s hospitalization for at least three days,” Collins said.
Following the revelation of Sec. Austin’s emergency health procedure at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, elected officials and Pentagon reporters raised questions over the American military chain of command. Namely, what would have happened were a military emergency to arise while Austin was incapacitated?
The Pentagon has also been criticized for an ongoing lack of transparency about the nature of Austin’s medical emergency and the decision to withhold information from the White House.
“The Secretary’s condition remains shrouded in secrecy,” Collins said.
Underscoring the gravity of debacle, Collins pointed to the U.S. military’s involvement in critical global issues, including tensions in the Middle East and Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The White House and Pentagon, responding to concerns over how Austin’s hospitalization was handled, pledged to review the lapse in communication. A Pentagon spokesperson cited the absence of a key staff member due to illness as one reason for the delay in informing the President and other top officials.
Austin, 70, underwent an elective medical procedure on Dec. 22 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. According to POLITICO, the Pentagon never informed the White House, but some “operational authorities” were transferred to Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
The evening of Jan. 1, Austin began experiencing severe pain and was taken by ambulance back to Walter Reed.
Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, reported that Secretary Austin is recovering well, but his release date remains unknown.
In response to the incident, the Pentagon announced a review of its procedures for transferring authority and ensuring timely notification to the President, Congress, and the public in such situations. This move aims to expand the circle of officials notified during future transfers of authority.
While some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have called for Austin’s resignation, the Pentagon has confirmed that he has no plans to step down.
The Biden administration maintains its confidence in Austin, who served as a member of defense contractor Raytheon’s board prior to his nomination.