U.S. to compensate some ‘Havana syndrome’ victims with six-figure payments

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The Biden administration plans to pay select diplomats and intelligence officers about $100,000 to $200,000 each to compensate for mysterious health issues known as ‘Havana Syndrome’, according to congressional aides and a former official familiar with the subject.

The payout system is the culmination of a multi-year push by Congress, which passed legislation last fall requiring the State Department and the CIA to compensate current and former officials suffering from what the government calls incidents. abnormal health, or AHI.

Despite six years of investigations, the US still lacks certainty about the cause of the symptoms, which include headaches, vision problems, dizziness and brain fog, among other ailments. The health problems were first reported among US diplomats and intelligence officers stationed in the Cuban capital, but have since been reported on every continent except Antarctica.

The six-figure payouts will go to those determined to have suffered the greatest setbacks, such as job loss or career derailment, said people briefed on the plan who, like others, spoke under on condition of anonymity because the program has not been approved. .

U.S. officials have warned that the compensation range is not yet final and could change as State Department regulations go through the final stages of a review process, which is being coordinated by the Office of Management. and budget.

The CIA determined this winter that a foreign country is unlikely to be behind a “global campaign to injure U.S. personnel with any weapon or mechanism” – an assessment that has raised doubts for years of speculation that the health issues were the result of a mysterious directed energy weapon. by Russian or Chinese agents.

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

As news of the compensation spread to the federal workforce, some officials noted that the compensation was generous while others said the range of compensation seemed insufficient given the loss of future and past earnings for those who have suffered severe neurological damage and cannot work any longer.

The Biden administration has yet to release criteria on how it will determine eligibility for compensation, but they are expected to be released shortly. Current and former officials and their family members will be eligible to make claims, people briefed on the plan said.

Under the Havana Act, Congress gave the Secretary of State and the Director of the CIA the power to determine eligibility, which has already raised concerns about whether diplomats and agents of the information will be treated in the same way.

“It is crucial that the CIA and the state implement the Havana Act equally. To include using the exact same criteria who is eligible for compensation. There can be no daylight between agencies, which was previously an unfortunate feature of how the U.S. government responded to AHIs,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired senior former CIA officer. as he suffered from symptoms, including painful headaches, after a trip to Moscow in 2017, when he helped run clandestine operations in Russia.

Devising a compensation plan has been particularly difficult for U.S. government officials given the lack of hard evidence of the cause of the illnesses and the inability to establish a clear diagnosis for the wide range of symptoms that, while sometimes debilitating, may also be common.

State Department and CIA officials said Thursday that Havana law allows agencies to make payments to personnel for “eligible brain damage.”

The two agencies have worked in partnership with the National Security Council on the operation of the payment system and will have more information about it “soon”, the CIA official said.

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

“As Director Burns pointed out, nothing is more important to him and the leadership of the CIA than taking care of our people,” the official said.

Officials from the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon and other agencies have jointly developed a new two-hour medical exam to screen for potential new cases that can be administered by doctors or other practitioners to US personnel assigned to missions. abroad.

The triage process includes visual, vestibular and blood tests, but no brain imaging, a fact that reflects an ever-changing and sometimes contested science about injuries. Even though some doctors have previously identified “noticeable changes” in the brain following apparent attacks, State Department doctors say they now believe the scans have no scientific validity.

Officials are also seeking to better educate medical personnel at missions around the world, asking them to be receptive to the experiences of potential victims — and they stress that skepticism is no longer the norm.

In January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the State Department, like the CIA, was focused on getting medical care to those in need and would continue to look for a cause behind health issues.

“We will continue to mobilize all our resources to learn more about these incidents, and more reports will follow. We will leave nothing to chance,” he wrote.

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