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Senate OKs Bill That Would Provide Aid For Mysterious 'Havana Syndrome' Injuries

A man rides his bicycle near the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Jan. 12.
Yamil Lage
AFP via Getty Images
A man rides his bicycle near the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Jan. 12.

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted unanimously to pass legislation that would provide additional resources for American officials suffering from so-called "Havana Syndrome" — a mysterious set of symptoms that first affected federal employees stationed in Cuba in 2016.

The bipartisan bill — Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act — would authorize financial support for U.S. officials reporting symptoms related to the syndrome, including headaches, nausea, hearing and vision changes, vertigo and memory loss.

"Far too many 'Havana Syndrome' victims have had to battle the bureaucracy to receive care for their debilitating injuries. 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," Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a coauthor of the bill, said in a statement.

Beginning in late 2016, dozens of U.S. Embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, and later in Guangzhou, China, complained of symptoms including cognitive difficulties.

The New York Times reported recently that the health incidents have now affected more than 130 federal personnel.

A number of State Department staffers recently sent a letter to leadership alleging that syndrome victims were not getting proper care, NBC News reported.

The sudden onset of peculiar symptoms has often baffled U.S. officials. Former President Donald Trump said in 2017 that Cuba was "responsible" but other officials have pointed the finger at other adversaries.

In 2020, at the request of the State Department, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine investigated the syndrome and concluded that microwave radiation was the "most plausible" cause of the Americans' ailments.

The report did not speculate on whether the diplomats' exposure to the radiation had been intentional — the product of weaponized microwaves wielded by foes of the U.S.

In a shared statement, the Senate cosponsors of the legislation referred to the incidents as "likely directed energy attacks."

"We also need a whole-of-government approach to determine what this weapon is and who is wielding it in order to prevent future attacks and protect Americans," Collins said in the Monday statement.

The bill would give the director of the CIA, the secretary of State and other agency heads latitude to provide additional financial and medical support to those suffering from lingering health problems stemming from the syndrome.

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Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.
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