The U.S. Secretary of Defense urged Americans and particularly Black people to take steps to ensure their health while making his first public comments following the fallout from his recent hospitalizations after he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Lloyd Austin on Thursday morning led a press briefing at the Pentagon that was punctuated by apologies for the lack of disclosure about his health condition, including keeping President Joe Biden unaware the secretary had even transferred his power to his deputy while receiving treatment for prostate cancer.
Austin, 70, rejected claims that he kept “secret” his diagnosis, cancer surgery and subsequent hospitalization for complications from the procedure. But he also said that he had regrets for not being more vocal about his diagnosis and pointed to data showing how many other Black and aging men face the same health challenges.
After briefly recognizing and offering thoughts and prayers to the American soldiers killed Sunday morning in a drone attack in Jordan, Austin — the first Black person to serve as Secretary of Defense — explained why he was not immediately more forthcoming about his cancer diagnosis.
“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. “It was a gut punch, and frankly my first instinct was to keep it private.”
Citing his reputation as “a pretty private guy,” Austin said he chose silence as an alternative to “burdening others with my problems.”
Austin added later: “I never directed anyone to keep my hospitalizations secret from the White House.”
He also made sure to point out that what he was saying was “an explanation and not an excuse.”
Austin said he’s since spoken directly to Biden, who accepted his apology.
Austin also said he was sorry for not speaking out sooner to place a brighter spotlight on his condition.
“[I] missed an opportunity to send a message on an important public health issue, and I’d like to fix that right now,” Austin told reporters.
“I was diagnosed with a highly treatable form of cancer, a pretty common one,” Austin continued. “One in eight American men will get prostate cancer, one in six Black men will get it. And so I’m here with a clear message to other men, especially older men: Get screened, get your regular check-ups, prostate cancer has a glass jaw. If your doctor can spot it, they can treat it and beat it.”
Noting that the side effects he experienced “are highly, highly unusual,” Austin said the American people can rely on him “to set a better example on this issue, today and for the rest of my life.”
During the Q&A session, a reporter asked Austin if his initial silence about his diagnosis may have reinforced a culture of secrecy, particularly among Black men when it comes to prostate cancer.
But Austin rejected that premise and said in his case it was “not an issue of secrecy as much as it’s an issue of privacy.”
He added: “Among the Black community, though, it’s even more a thing that people want to keep private.”
Austin is not wrong.
Many Black men may refrain from undergoing prostate cancer screening due to a combination of factors, including fear and mistrust of the healthcare system, lack of insurance, and insufficient knowledge about prostate treatment and screening, according to the American Cancer Association. The screening process can be daunting and uncomfortable for some patients if they are selected to undergo a Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) which is when a healthcare provider examines the rectum to check for abnormal growth and inflammation, but screenings and early prevention can save lives.
In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s press briefing, Austin had been adamant that he had “no plans to resign” over the controversy.
The reported lack of transparency from the Defense Department as its leader went into surgery has sparked bipartisan outrage as Republicans and Democrats alike demand answers for why even Biden was not informed of Austin’s medical procedure.
Austin was re-admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on New Year’s Day when he was “experiencing severe pain,” the Associated Press reported three days after it was revealed that people like Biden, the U.S. Secretary of State and top Pentagon officials were unaware the secretary had surgery on Dec. 22.
He stayed in the facility’s intensive care unit for several days at a time when there are intensifying national defense interests stemming from the ongoing conflict in the Middle East as well as the war in Ukraine, both of which the U.S. government is involved.
USA Today described Austin as keeping his hospitalizations “a secret” from the president and others.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks was among the government officials who said they were not immediately aware of Austin’s hospitalizations.
One Pentagon official who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity questioned the protocol and suggested there may be a “cover-up” at play, underscoring the concerns about Austin.
“Heads have to roll,” Brett Bruen, a former diplomat and expert in crisis communications who worked in the White House under then-President Barack Obama, told USA Today. “This is not a minor miscommunication. It’s about the confidence that our national security structure has in its leadership and that the leadership is acting in a transparent way.”
Austin was swiftly confirmed as the first Black secretary of defense nearly three years ago following his nomination by Biden after the 2020 election was certified.
Biden notably called Austin “the person we need in this moment” after a mini-bipartisan controversy broke out because he had only been retired for fewer than five years – fewer than the seven years of being a civilian stipulated by law for all Defense Secretary nominees.
In remarks after his confirmation, Austin tried to allay concerns about having any conflict of interest while serving as secretary of defense.
“I come to this new role as a civilian leader,” he said. “With military experience, to be sure, but also with a deep appreciation for maintaining civilian control of the defense department.”
He said he would surround himself with career civil servants and ensure there is “meaningful civilian oversight.”
The post ‘Get Screened’: Lloyd Austin Addresses Prostate Cancer Risks For Black Men, Apologizes For ‘Secret’ Diagnosis appeared first on NewsOne.
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