Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday canceled a planned trip to Brussels for a meeting on Ukraine aid this week after being admitted to the
critical care unit at Walter Reed National National Military Medical Center over the weekend, the Pentagon announced Monday.
Wednesday’s planned Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, a gathering of international defense leaders to discuss support for Kyiv, will now be held virtually, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Monday.
Austin returned to Walter Reed on Sunday night following symptoms suggesting an “emergent bladder issue,” the Pentagon announced on Sunday. He was admitted to the critical care unit “for supportive care and close monitoring,” his doctors said in a late Sunday statement.
Austin “underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia to address his bladder issue. We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight,” his doctors said Monday. They anticipate that Austin will be able to resume his normal duties on Tuesday.
The Pentagon chief transferred his official duties to his deputy after arriving at the hospital, Ryder
said in a statement.
It’s not clear how long Austin will remain hospitalized, but his doctors said he is still expected to make a “full recovery” from prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in December.
Ukraine’s defense minister, Rustem Umerov, pushed to make the Ukraine meeting virtual if Austin was not going to make it in person, according to a person familiar with the situation. Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. C.Q. Brown had also been slated to attend.
Austin and Brown will both attend the contact group meeting virtually, Ryder said. Austin was also slated to attend the NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels on Thursday; Julianne Smith, the U.S. representative to NATO, will represent Austin at the meeting, he added.
The last contact group meeting, in January, was also held virtually. Austin’s health was a “factor” in the decision to meet that way, Ryder said at the time.
Austin’s canceled trip this week comes at a precarious time for continued U.S. support to Ukraine’s war effort. The Pentagon has been unable to send military equipment to Kyiv since late December, after running out of money allotted by Congress to replenish U.S. stockpiles.
President Joe Biden’s proposal to authorize $60 billion in additional aid for Kyiv has been stalled on Capitol Hill for four months over GOP demands for border security. Former President Donald Trump is opposed to sending aid until the administration tightens border security and has pressured lawmakers to block the supplemental.
Defying Trump, the Senate on Sunday voted to advance
a border-free version of the foreign aid supplemental spending bill that includes $95 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. It’s expected to pass the Senate this week but faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled House.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines are
running out of ammunition and other weapons to fight the Russian invaders due to the Pentagon’s cash problem, a top official said last month.
This is the third time Austin has been hospitalized since learning of his cancer diagnosis in December. He underwent a procedure to treat the cancer in December. He later experienced complications from that procedure and was admitted to the intensive care unit in early January. He stayed there until Jan. 15.
Austin and his staff failed to promptly notify his deputy, many senior DOD leaders, Congress and the White House of the first two hospital stays. It took even more time for him to tell the president that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
“We did not handle this right. I did not handle this right,” Austin told reporters
at the Pentagon on Feb. 1.
Austin is scheduled to appear before the House Armed Services Committee at the end of this month to address his handling of his medical problems.
Paul McLeary contributed to this report.