The United States must compensate some ‘Havana Syndrome’ victims with six-figure payments

Written by Javed Iqbal

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The Biden administration plans to pay some diplomats and intelligence officers about $ 100,000 to $ 200,000 each to compensate for the mysterious health problems known as “Havana syndrome,” according to congressional aides and a former official familiar with the matter.

The payment plan is the culmination of a multi-year push by Congress, which passed a law last fall that required the State Department and the CIA to compensate current and former officials suffering from what the government calls Anomalous Health Incidents or AHIs.

Despite six years of research, the United States still lacks certainty about what causes the symptoms, which include headaches, vision problems, dizziness and brain fog. The health problems were first reported among US diplomats and intelligence officers serving in Cuba’s capital, but have since been reported on all continents except Antarctica.

The six-figure payments will go to those determined to have suffered the biggest setbacks, such as job losses or career derailment, said people briefed on the plan, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been approved for release.

U.S. officials warned that the extent of compensation is not yet final and may change as State Department regulation goes through the final stages of an audit process coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget.

The CIA determined this winter that a foreign country is probably not behind a “worldwide campaign harming US personnel with a weapon or mechanism” – an assessment that raised doubts about years of speculation that the health problems were the result of a mysteriously targeted energy weapon used by Russian or Chinese agents.

Government investigators have reviewed more than 1,000 cases, the majority of which are attributed to a pre-existing medical condition or environmental or other factors. Dozens of other reported cases remain unexplained.

As news of the compensation packages has flowed out to the federal workforce, some officials have noted that the packages were generous, while others have said the compensation range seems inadequate given the loss of future and past incomes for those suffering severe neurological damage. and can no longer work.

The Biden administration has not yet released the criteria for how it will determine eligibility for compensation, but it is expected to be announced soon. Current and former officials as well as their family members will be eligible to make claims, said those who were briefed on the plan.

Under Havana law, Congress authorized the foreign minister and CIA director to determine eligibility, which has already raised concerns about whether diplomats and intelligence officers will be treated equally.

“It is crucial that the CIA and the state implement the Havana law in an identical way. To include using exactly the same criteria, who qualifies for compensation. There can be no daylight between agencies, which was previously an unfortunate feature, how the USG reacted to the AHIs, “said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA officer. He retired in 2019 while suffering from symptoms, including painful headaches, after a trip to Moscow in 2017 when he helped run covert operations in Russia.

Drawing up a compensation plan has been particularly difficult for U.S. officials due to the lack of hard evidence of what causes the disorders, and the inability to establish a clear diagnosis for the wide range of symptoms, which can sometimes be debilitating at times.

State Department and CIA officials said Thursday that Havana law authorized agencies to make payments to staff for “qualified brain damage.”

The two agencies have been working in partnership with the National Security Council on how the payment system will work and will soon have more information on it, the CIA official said.

The official added that the legislation gives the CIA and other agencies “authority to make payments to employees, eligible family members and other persons affiliated with the CIA.”

“As Director Burns has emphasized, nothing is more important to him and CIA leaders than taking care of our people,” the official said, referring to CIA Director William J. Burns.

Officials from the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon, and other agencies have jointly developed a new, two-hour medical examination to screen potential new cases that may be administered by physicians or other general practitioners to U.S. personnel assigned to overseas missions.

The triage process includes visual, vestibular, and blood tests, but not brain imaging, a fact that reflects constantly changing and sometimes controversial science about the injuries. Although some doctors have previously identified “strange changes” in the brain as a result of apparent attacks, Foreign Ministry doctors say they now believe the scans have no scientific validity.

Officials are also seeking to train medical staff on missions around the world and instruct them in being receptive to the experiences of potential victims – and they stress that skepticism is no longer the norm.

In January, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said the State Department, like the CIA, was focused on providing medical care to those in need and will continue to seek a cause behind the health problems.

“We will continue to use all our resources to learn more about these incidents and further reports will follow. We will leave no stone unturned,” he wrote.

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Javed Iqbal

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