Lloyd Austin has appointed a temporary replacement during his medical procedure after previously being secretly hospitalized FILE PHOTO © DoD photo by US Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has made plans to turn over his duties to a deputy while he’s undergoing an elective medical procedure, avoiding the secrecy that led to a government investigation after his undisclosed hospitalization earlier this year.

The Pentagon’s deputy chief, Kathleen Hicks, will fill in for Austin while he undergoes a procedure on Friday night at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, a military spokesman told reporters.

“The procedure is related to a bladder issue Austin suffered as a result of a surgery he underwent to treat prostate cancer earlier this year,” said the Pentagon spokesman, Major General Pat Ryder.

The treatment is non-surgical and “minimally invasive,” Ryder noted. Austin determined that he would be temporarily unable to perform his job duties, so Hicks was assigned to handle his role temporarily. The spokesman didn’t specify how long the defense chief was expected to be sidelined.

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The 70-year-old Austin underwent surgery for prostate cancer last December without informing President Joe Biden or other officials above and below him in the US chain of command. He fell ill with abdominal pain on January 1 and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he remained for nearly two weeks while being treated for a urinary tract infection. His condition was so serious that he was admitted to Walter Reed’s intensive care unit on January 2.

Neither White House officials nor Hicks were informed of Austin’s incapacitating illness until January 4. Hicks, who was on vacation in Puerto Rico at the time, filled in for Austin without finding out until three days later that he was hospitalized.

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A Pentagon investigation found no “ill intent” or serious wrongdoing in the secrecy surrounding Austin’s hospitalization. New policies were put in place to ensure a smooth chain of command, and those steps were implemented when Austin was again hospitalized in February, the department said.

Austin, a former US Army general and Raytheon board member, addressed the controversy for the first time in a February 1 press briefing. He conceded that his cancer diagnosis wasn’t handled correctly, adding, “I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.” (RT)