Politics

U.S. Outlines Compensation Rules for Some Havana Syndrome Victims

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday released its rules and guidelines for providing financial support to victims of Havana syndrome, the mysterious ailments that have affected American diplomats, C.I.A. officers and others since 2016.

The payout for a confirmed brain injury will be $140,475, according to the State Department regulations. Officials and family members with severe injuries that prevent them from working or maintaining relationships will qualify for $187,300.

C.I.A. guidelines for paying its injured officers will be kept secret. But U.S. officials said the agency’s rules are broadly similar, using the same definitions for brain injuries and the same payment scale.

The cause of the Havana syndrome, a set of symptoms first observed in C.I.A. officers and diplomats serving in Cuba, remains a mystery, and even the number of people injured in possible “anomalous health events,” the bureaucratic term favored by the government, is contested.

While dozens of reported cases have been attributed to other medical conditions, some have defied any explanation, and experts have dismissed the possibility that they could be forms of “functional illness,” or psychosomatic symptoms.

The C.I.A. and other agencies continue to investigate, focusing on a handful of incidents in Havana, Vienna, Belgrade and Hanoi. Officials, lawmakers and victims groups have grown frustrated that an explanation remains illusive.

An interim C.I.A. report at the beginning of the year found no evidence that the injuries were caused by a hostile foreign actor, like Russia. A panel of experts working for the director of national intelligence released an executive summary of another report that said pulsed energy could be responsible for the injuries.

While the two reports were not contradictory, some lawmakers and victims said the implications were quite different.

The C.I.A. deputy director, David S. Cohen, updated lawmakers from various committees on the investigation during a closed Senate briefing on Thursday.

Some senators asked about the differences between the two reports, according to multiple people briefed on the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret session. Mr. Cohen told lawmakers that the C.I.A. was aware of the panel’s findings when its interim report was written and argued the efforts were not contradictory. The panel of experts was looking at plausible means of injury, and the C.I.A. was looking for evidence of what, and who, was responsible.

Mark Lenzi, a State Department official injured in China, said the investigation continued to be inadequate. “State and C.I.A. will continue to give Congress an incomplete and misleading picture of what the U.S. government knows about the pulsed microwave attacks that injured me, my family and my American Foreign Service neighbor and her family members in China,” he said.

In a rare bipartisan action, Congress approved the Havana Act last year, legislation originally drafted by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to provide compensation for government officials debilitated by Havana syndrome.

Under the State Department’s rules, victims must show they have a brain injury in connection with “war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incidents designated by the Secretary of State” to qualify for the aid. The injury cannot have occurred because of misconduct by the individual, and must have occurred after Jan. 1, 2016. Victims must also show that they have had active treatment for injuries for at least 12 months.

Victims said Friday that they were studying the rules. Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior C.I.A. official who suffered from headaches and vertigo following an incident in Moscow in 2017, said that the implementing rules should be consistent across the government and should not exclude people who have been injured.

“We must ensure that the criteria is expansive enough to ensure that all injured U.S. government personnel receive compensation, and that some are not left out in the cold,” he said.

For the last two years, C.I.A. director William J. Burns has worked to improve health care for officers who reported injuries. Tammy Thorp, the agency spokeswoman, said the act will now give the C.I.A. authority “to make payments to employees, eligible family members, and other individuals affiliated with the C.I.A. who are determined to have a qualifying injury to the brain.”

“As Director Burns has emphasized, nothing is more important to him and C.I.A. leaders than taking care of our people,” Ms. Thorp said.

The compensation rules were coordinated by the White House, which worked with the Office of Management and Budget, State Department and C.I.A. to develop regulations that could be applied consistently and with compassion, a National Security Council spokesman said.

U.S. officials emphasized that victims who do not qualify for payments could still receive medical assistance from the government and might qualify for other kinds of financial support.

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