Speaking on Thursday during his first press conference at the Pentagon since he was hospitalized at the beginning of January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin apologized for not properly handling and communicating his cancer diagnosis and treatment to President Joe Biden, Pentagon staff and the general public. Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in mid-January after more than two weeks of hospitalization due to complications following a minimally invasive procedure on Dec. 22 to cure his prostate cancer. The defense secretary said that he’s still recovering from the complications he experienced, such as leg pain, and is undergoing physical therapy to help improve it. He also acknowledged that he’s using a golf cart to move around the Pentagon.
Austin apologized for not being more transparent about his medical issues and provided more detail on his prostate cancer diagnosis. Said Austin: “I want to be crystal clear. We did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”
The defense secretary made it clear that during his hospitalization there were “no gaps in authority, and no risk to the department’s command and control”. Summarizing what he went through since receiving his cancer diagnosis in December, Austin said that he was “offering all of this as an explanation and not an excuse … The news shook me, and I know that it shakes so many others, especially in the Black community. It was a gut punch.” He said his first instinct was to keep the matter private, but added that “I’ve learned from this experience that taking this kind of job means losing some of the privacy that most of us expect. The American people have a right to know if their leaders are facing health challenges that might affect their ability to perform their duties, even temporarily. So a wider circle should have been notified, especially the president.”
Austin said he was offering this information as an explanation, not as an excuse, adding: “I can tell you I’ve apologized directly to President Biden, and I’ve told him that I’m deeply sorry for not letting him know immediately that I received a heavy diagnosis and was getting treatment. And he has responded with a grace and warm heart that anyone who knows President Biden would expect. And I’m grateful for his full confidence in me.”
Austin said he fully supports the ongoing internal review in the Department of Defense, and an inspector general review, adding that the Pentagon has already instituted new procedures to ensure no future lapses in notification. In the future if the deputy secretary needs to assume the duties of his office, she and several White House offices will be immediately notified, including the White House Situation Room.
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