Austin was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday for what the Pentagon described as “an emergent bladder issue.”
On Monday, doctors said he underwent a nonsurgical procedure under general anesthesia and will be closely monitored overnight, even though they expected a “successful recovery.”
“A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated. We anticipate the secretary will be able to resume his normal duties tomorrow,” they said in a statement late Monday. “His cancer prognosis remains excellent.”
Austin, 70, had been scheduled to fly to Brussels on Tuesday for an in-person meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) and also a meeting of NATO defense ministers. But the Pentagon canceled those plans earlier Monday and announced the meeting on Ukraine would now be done virtually.
The defense secretary “currently intends to participate in the virtual UDCG,” Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder told reporters.
But Ryder added that Austin “will remain flexible depending on his health care status.”
In addition to Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman General CQ Brown will also take part in the virtual meeting on Ukraine, as will Assistant Secretary of Defense Celeste Wallander.
Wallander will also travel to Brussels to represent the U.S. at the NATO ministerial meeting along with Ambassador Julianne Smith, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO.
The meetings of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and NATO defense ministers come at a critical time.
Ukraine has been fending off waves of intensified Russian drone and missile attacks despite running low on critical munitions, while the U.S. has not sent any military aid to Ukraine since late December, when funding ran out. Efforts since then by U.S. lawmakers to approve additional aid for Kyiv have so far stalled.
The U.S. defense secretary was diagnosed with prostate cancer late last year and has been criticized for keeping secret his diagnosis, surgery and subsequent hospitalization because of complications from the procedure.
This time, the Pentagon said Austin’s aides informed the White House even before he left for the hospital. Congress and the Joint Chiefs chairman were also notified of the developments.
Austin also transferred control of the department to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.
Despite the latest hospitalization, the White House on Monday voiced confidence in Austin’s ability to lead the Defense Department.
President Joe Biden is “not at all” concerned about Austin’s hospitalization impacting his leadership, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby told reporters.
When Austin first returned to work at the Pentagon earlier this month, he apologized for keeping his cancer diagnosis a secret.
“The news shook me. … Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private,” Austin told reporters. “I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”
“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,” he added.
Upon being diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier in December, he went to a hospital for a surgical procedure on December 22.
Austin was readmitted January 1 and spent two more weeks in the hospital after experiencing extreme pain and being admitted to the intensive care unit.
Biden and other key leaders weren’t informed of Austin’s diagnosis until more than a week after he’d been readmitted to the hospital.
Austin’s lack of disclosure prompted changes in federal guidelines and triggered an internal Pentagon review and an inspector general review into his department’s notification procedures.
VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.