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austin: “I did not handle this right…”: US Defence Secy apologizes for mishandling communication around his cancer treatment

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Washington: US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin on Thursday apologised to his colleagues and the American public and admitted that he mishandled communication around his treatment for prostate cancer, CNN reported on Thursday.
“I want to be crystal clear: We did not handle this right. And I did not handle this right. I should have told the President about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility,” Austin said. “I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”

This comes as Austin addressed the Pentagon briefing, emphasised that at no point was there a breakdown in the military chain of command. He also said the news of his diagnosis “shook” him and his first instinct “was to keep it private.”

“As a rule, I don’t talk about conversations with my boss, but I can tell you I have apologized directly to President Biden. And I’ve told him that I’m deeply sorry for not letting him know immediately that I received a heavy diagnosis and was getting treatment,” Austin said. “And he has responded with a grace and warm heart that anyone who knows President Biden would expect,” CNN reported.

Austin’s unannounced hospitalization, which was not disclosed to the media or Biden and other senior administration officials for days, raised major questions about transparency and communications within the Biden administration. Republicans have been highly critical of how the Pentagon handled Austin’s illness and the House Armed Services Committee has called on the defence secretary to testify about the failure to notify key government leaders.

Austin added that he “never directed anyone to keep my January hospitalization from the White House.””I was being treated for prostate cancer, the news shook me, and I know that it shakes so many others especially in the Black community,” Austin said.”Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private. I don’t think it’s news that I’m a pretty private guy, I never like burdening others with my problems. It’s just not my way. But I’ve learned from this experience, taking this kind of job means losing some of the privacy that most of us expect. The American people have a right to know if their leaders are facing health challenges that might affect their ability to perform their duties even temporarily,” Austin added.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden said Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin lapsed in his judgment by not informing him of his hospitalisation, The Hill reported.

Asked if it was a lapse in judgment for Austin not to have informed him of his ongoing treatment for prostrate cancer, he told reporters, “Yes.”

Addressing the controversy around Defence Secretary Austin for the first time, President Biden said he still has confidence in the former.

To a question on whether he continues to repose trust in the Defence Secretary, Biden replied, “I do”.

Austin underwent surgery in an initial December 22 hospital visit after prostate cancer was detected and he was released the next morning, the Pentagon revealed Tuesday. He returned to the hospital following complications on January 1, but Biden was unaware of his hospitalization until January 4.

The Hill reported that US President Biden got to know about Austin’s prostate cancer diagnosis until Tuesday morning, the same day it was revealed to the public in what some are calling an extraordinary breach of protocol.

The White House has said Biden isn’t considering firing Austin despite mounting criticism, including from some Republicans who have called for Austin to step down. Austin acknowledged that he failed to notify Biden for multiple days when he was hospitalized following complications.

The White House announced on Tuesday it was launching a review of protocols for how Cabinet officials delegate authority.

White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients in a memo to Cabinet secretaries said agencies would be required to notify the Office of Cabinet Affairs and the White House chief of staff in the event they need to delegate their duties when travelling to areas with limited communication, during hospitalization, or when undergoing a medical procedure requiring anaesthesia.

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