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House committee grills Austin during hearing on hospitalization

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressing the House Armed Services Committee Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein

House committee grills Austin during hearing on hospitalization

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday fielded questions from the House Armed Services Committee on failing to communicate about his medical issues beginning in December. He again acknowledged not immediately informing U.S. President Joe Biden and the Pentagon of his problems, including an emergency hospital stay in early January following complications from surgery. “I did not handle it right,” Austin said. “I take full responsibility.”

After a 30-day review, the Department of Defense implemented several institutional changes to prevent similar situations in the future, he said. He said the revised system is already working, using his February hospitalization as an example. Austin repeatedly insisted there was never a lapse in authority, and that, “At all times, either I or the Deputy Secretary was in a position to conduct the duties of my office.”

What kind of questioning did committee members pursue? Committee members questioned Austin on the timeline of his hospitalizations to discover the root of the communication breakdown. Austin did not blame his staff, but rather the internal system of communication at the time. The secretary claimed he never intended to keep his hospitalization from the White House.

Several committee members questioned whether someone in a lower position would still have a job after poorly communicating the way Austin did. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz noted that when lower-ranking soldiers wanted similar personal medical privacy and refused the military’s 2021 COVID-19 vaccine mandate, they were forced out.

Did any members of Congress say something positive? California Rep. John Garamendi praised Austin for his service and insisted, “We [Congress] are derelict, not you,” highlighting the congressional failure to do its job and pass an appropriations bill to fund the Department of Defense.

Has Austin been disciplined for the communication breakdown? Austin confirmed during the meeting that he was not being suspended, demoted, or having his pay cut as a consequence of failing to communicate.

Dig deeper: Read Daniel R. Suhr’s column in WORLD Opinions about what Austin’s failure to notify officials of his absence means.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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