Pentagon Probe Finds No ‘attempt to Obfuscate’ Austin Hospitalization

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in October.

The Defense Department on Monday released a long-awaited review of senior officials’ handling of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent hospitalizations, finding that there was “no attempt to obfuscate” his cancer diagnosis and medical treatment, even though the Pentagon initially withheld it from the White House and public.

An unclassified summary of the review did not identify any failures by Austin or his aides as they oversaw the transfer of top-level authority from Austin to his deputy several times while he was undergoing medical treatment in December and January. But the probe, which was conducted by a senior Pentagon official, said that Austin’s staff was constrained by medical privacy laws and their own concern about their boss’s privacy.

“Although, as hindsight has shown, the process for making decisions to transfer the Secretary’s authority could and should be improved … nothing examined during this review demonstrated any indication of ill intent or an attempt to obfuscate,” the report added.

The report marks the latest development in the saga of Austin’s medical treatment, which erupted into public view in early January when the Pentagon announced that the former Army general had been hospitalized four days earlier at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington.

It later emerged that the White House had not learned of that fact until several days after Austin was admitted to Walter Reed, where he was subsequently moved to critical care, and was not informed about his underlying diagnosis of prostate cancer for roughly a month.

Both Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about the handling of the episode due to the vast responsibility that a defense secretary has in leading the U.S. military’s mission for safeguarding Americans, managing its massive arsenal of weapons, and overseeing its hundreds of thousands of troops. He later apologized for not disclosing more information.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, speaking to reporters after the release of the public version of the report, said there was no gap in Pentagon leadership at any time during Austin’s medical treatment.

At several points in recent months, including during his hospitalization in early January, Austin transferred authority to his Pentagon No. 2, Kathleen Hicks, though she was on vacation in the Caribbean when that occurred in early January and was not initially informed about Austin’s hospitalization.

Austin was released from the hospital in mid-January but later returned for follow-up treatment. Doctors have said they are treating a complication from a surgery to address the prostate cancer and said his prognosis for that illness is very good.

Along with the review, which was commissioned by Austin’s chief of staff after his hospitalization was made public, the Pentagon released steps the department will take to improve the process for transferring command.

Numerous questions remain unanswered, including why Austin’s top aides did not inform the White House about his early January hospitalization for several days. The report provided little new information about the events surrounding those decisions, and Ryder declined to provide additional information Monday.

Austin is scheduled to testify about the incident Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), the committee chair, criticized the released findings of the review.

“Unsurprisingly, the review of Sec Austin’s actions, conducted by his own subordinates & subject to his approval, HELD NO ONE ACCOUNTABLE,” Rogers said on the social media site X, formerly Twitter. “This is why we are conducting our own investigation.”

The Pentagon’s inspector general is conducting a separate review of the episode.