President Joe Biden on Friday signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that will improve care for those with “Havana Syndrome,” a mystifying set of symptoms that have afflicted U.S. diplomats, and other officials stationed worldwide.
The HAVANA Act will authorize the State Department, the CIA and other agencies to provide payments to overseas personnel who suffer brain injuries while on their federal assignments or in connection with war, terrorism or other activities.
The so-called Havana Syndrome came to light in 2017, when public servants began to report a confluence of symptoms including hearing grating noises for extended periods of time, followed by headache, hearing and memory loss and nausea.
They were first recorded in the Cuban capital and a 2019 study found evidence of brain injuries in people affected by the symptoms. Government officials have said 200 people have been sickened by the mystery condition, with police in Berlin, Germany, confirming this week that they have been investigating such an incident since August.
The cause is not definitively known, but the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report last year saying the most likely one that its committee considered was directed microwave energy. Officials suspect Russian intelligence may be behind the alleged attacks, Politico reported in April, but most theories remain speculative at this point.
The Biden administration has been conservative when referring to the attacks in public. In a statement, the president called them “anomalous health incidents.” Many lawmakers, including Collins, a Republican, have referred to them as “attacks.”
The bill is a response to uneven or lacking care provided to officials reporting the symptoms. Many have been denied care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to a September letter from Collins and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It passed both chambers with no opposition before going to Biden.
“As we continue our efforts to support victims, we must also redouble our whole-of-government approach to identify and stop the heartless adversary who is harming U.S. personnel,” Collins said in a statement.