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Austin cancels trip to Brussels for NATO and Ukraine meetings as he remains in hospital

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin canceled a trip to Brussels for NATO and Ukraine meetings later this week as he remains hospitalized at Walter Reed medical center, according to a defense official familiar with the plans.

Austin was taken to the hospital Sunday afternoon with symptoms “suggesting an emergent bladder issue,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Sunday. Austin was then admitted to the hospital’s critical care unit later in the evening for additional care and close monitoring, the hospital said.

Ryder said Monday that Austin is in the intensive care unit “in order to provide appropriate privacy,” and he will remain there for the duration of his stay. Austin’s doctors said in a statement Monday afternoon that Austin underwent “non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia to address his bladder issue.”

“We anticipate a successful recovery and will closely monitor him overnight,” the statement said, adding that Austin’s doctors believe he will be able to resume his duties as defense secretary on Tuesday.

It is still unclear how long Austin will remain at the hospital, according to medical staff, though his doctors’ statement said they did not anticipate a “prolonged hospital stay.”

Austin was supposed to lead a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) in Brussels, followed by a meeting of the NATO Defense Ministerial. Austin attended the January 23 meeting of the UDCG virtually from his home. This week’s meeting of the UDCG will again be held virtually.

On Sunday afternoon, Austin transferred his duties to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, notifying the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress, according to the Pentagon. Ryder said Monday that Austin would be represented at the UDCG by Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and at the NATO Defense Ministerial by Ambassador Julianne Smith, the US permanent representative to NATO.

Austin has faced significant criticism for his failure to notify senior administration officials, including President Joe Biden, of his previous hospitalization and his diagnosis with prostate cancer. Austin is scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee at the end of the month about the failure to notify officials.

This time, notification came quickly from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Austin was taken to the hospital at 2:20 p.m. Sunday, the Pentagon said. Within three hours, the Pentagon said notifications went out to the president, the Joints Chiefs chair and Congress. A subsequent statement said Austin had transferred his responsibilities to his deputy. And shortly before midnight, a third statement said Austin had been admitted to the critical care unit at Walter Reed.

The rapid process of notification stands in marked contrast to Austin’s previous hospitalization. It took days for Austin’s office to notify senior administration officials, including Biden, that the defense secretary was in the hospital, and it took even longer to inform officials of Austin’s diagnosis with prostate cancer.

Biden said in January that Austin had a lapse in judgement in not notifying the commander in chief about the diagnosis. Austin, in his first news conference after his initial hospitalization, said he directly apologized to the president and was “deeply sorry” for not letting him know.

A 30-day review of the notification process was completed last week, but the Pentagon said most of it was classified. Austin said during his news conference that the Pentagon would share “as much as possible as soon as possible.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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