Lloyd Austin 911 call reveals effort to keep EMS transport ‘subtle’
USA TODAY obtained 911 audio from an aide for Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin the day of his Jan. 1 hospitalization.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was rushed to the hospital Sunday for symptoms of a bladder issue, less than a month after his previous secret stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center sparked controversy.
Austin, 70, was taken back to Walter Reed by his security detail at 2:20 p.m. Sunday, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary.
Unlike his previous hospitalization that began Jan. 1, Austin notified the White House, Congress and Pentagon officials, Ryder said in a statement.
Austin has not transferred his authority to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, but she is prepared to take on those responsibilities, Ryder said. Austin has secret communications systems necessary to perform his duties.
Austin was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed Jan. 1 after complaining of severe pain. He had developed complications from surgery for prostate cancer on Dec. 22, according to his doctors. Austin failed to notify the White House, Congress and key staffers at the Pentagon of his diagnosis.
Austin’s staff sought to keep his ambulance ride under the radar as well, acccording to a transcript of the 911 call obtained by USA TODAY. A staff member asked the dispatcher to approach his house in the northern Virginia suburbs without siren or flashing lights to keep it “subtle.”
Doctors at Walter Reed placed him in intensive care for four days, a fact that Austin kept secret. He eventually transferred his authority to Hicks.
Austin, at a Feb. 1 news conference, apologized for trying to conceal his illness and subsequent hospitalization. He called the diagnosis a “gut punch,” and that his instinct was to keep his illness private. He said that he took full responsibility for the mistake and added that that he had not pressured his staff to withhold details.
Pentagon officials recently completed a review of its policy regarding transfer of authority, Ryder said last week. Austin is reviewing that report before its release. In addition, the Pentagon Inspector General is investigating the matter, and Congress has called on Austin to testify about it.
Austin’s hospitalization comes at a pivotal moment as he prepares for meeting of key allies in Europe over aid to Ukraine in it defense of Russia’s illegal invasion. Austin is scheduled to meet with allies providing military aid, and with defense chiefs from NATO in Brussels.
On Sunday, the Senate approved a foreign aid package that includes $60 billion to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs to push back against Russia. The measure faces an uncertain future in the House where some GOP members oppose the financial assistance to Kyiv.
NATO allies will also likely be concerned by comment by former President Donald Trump over the weekend demeaning the value of the alliance. The front-runner for the Republican nomination, Trump renewed a false criticism of how NATO is funded and said he might not defend European treaty members if they are attacked by Russia unless they had paid enough to satisfy him.