US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin looks on as he attends the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Plus Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 16, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/Pool/ File Photo

Washington, United States – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was treated under general anesthesia for bladder problems as he battles prostate cancer, doctors said on Monday, and will miss a trip to Brussels as he recovers from the procedure.

The 70-year-old's latest health scare came weeks after it emerged he kept recent hospital admissions secret and did not promptly inform President Joe Biden of his cancer diagnosis, sparking widespread criticism.

On Sunday, Austin was admitted to an intensive care ward due to bladder problems and officially handed over duties to his deputy.

He “underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia,” his doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington said in a statement Monday.

“A prolonged hospitalization is not expected. We anticipate that the secretary will be able to resume normal duties tomorrow.”
Doctors added that his cancer prognosis remained excellent.

Ukraine aid talks

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said Austin would no longer travel to Brussels, home of NATO headquarters, this week.

Austin is a key figure in the United States' attempts to maintain Western support for Ukraine's fight against Russia's invasion, while Republican lawmakers in Washington refuse to fund new military aid to Kiev.

He was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, made up of nations that coordinate military assistance, the Pentagon added.

Austin's health problems also come at a time when the United States faces a growing crisis in the Middle East due to the war between Israel and Hamas.

He effectively disappeared from public view for prostate cancer treatment in December and again in January after suffering complications.

He publicly apologized after coming under heavy political attack for not disclosing the hospitalizations, and several investigations have been launched into how the U.S. chain of command works when senior officials are incapacitated.

Some Republicans have called for Austin to be fired, but Biden has said he remains confident in his defense secretary.

On Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked by reporters whether Biden had any concerns about Austin's ability to continue in office, and he responded, “Not at all.”

The Pentagon initially said on Sunday that the defense chief brought classified communications systems and would maintain “the functions and duties of his office.”

However, officials announced a few hours later that his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, would take over the role.

Austin has gained a reputation as an apolitical official who avoids the spotlight, which he says contributed to his decision to keep his cancer diagnosis secret.

At a press conference on February 1, he said he apologized directly to Biden.

“Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private. I don't think it's news that I'm a very private guy – I've never liked burdening others with my problems,” he said.

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The Pentagon said his “emerging bladder problem” was not related to his cancer treatment.