US defense chief cancels trip to Brussels for Ukraine meeting due to hospitalization

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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, according to a Defense Department official.

Wednesday’s planned Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, a gathering of international defense leaders to discuss support for Kyiv, will now be held virtually, said the official, who like others was granted anonymity to speak ahead of an official announcement.

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.

The Pentagon chief transferred his official duties to his deputy after arriving at the hospital, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat 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.

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.