Jun 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate passes bill to support "Havana syndrome" victims

Senator Susan Collins during a Senate Ahearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 28
Sen. Susan Collins at the Senate on Capitol Hill in April. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate unanimously passed legislation Monday offering financial support to government employees experiencing symptoms including brain injuries that are consistent with "Havana Syndrome."

Why it matters: Over 130 cases of the illness first detected in the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016 have been reported among overseas U.S. personnel. The head injuries are "from likely directed energy attacks in Cuba, China, and elsewhere," per a Senate Intelligence Committee statement.

  • The Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act "would authorize the CIA Director and the Secretary of State to provide injured employees with additional financial support for brain injuries," according to the statement.
"Both the CIA and State Department would be required to create regulations detailing fair and equitable criteria for payment.  This legislation would also require the CIA and State Department to report to Congress on how this authority is being used and if additional legislative or administrative action is required."

Of note: American diplomats and other government staffers suffering from the symptoms wrote to the State Department last month to raise concerns that some injured workers were being denied proper care.

What they're saying: "Far too many 'Havana Syndrome' victims have had to battle the bureaucracy to receive care for their debilitating injuries," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an Intelligence Committee member who co-authored the bill, in a statement.

  • "American personnel who have undergone these attacks while serving our country should be treated the same way we would treat a soldier who suffered a traumatic injury on the battlefield."
  • Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) noted that as the panel pushes for "more answers on these mysterious and debilitating attacks," this bill "will make sure that we can provide financial relief as they seek medical treatment for the injuries they’ve endured."

The big picture: A report commissioned by the State Department last December found radio frequency energy of radiation that includes microwaves likely caused American diplomats to fall ill with neurological symptoms.

  • There were reports of 40 State Department staff experiencing symptoms including ear pain, intense head pressure or vibration, dizziness, visual problems, and cognitive difficulties.
  • The report did not attribute blame for the suspected attacks, but it noted there "was significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures."
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