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.