US State Dept. to pay 6-figure sums to victims of mysterious Havana Syndrome

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks before a meeting with Cuban-American leaders and activists in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.

The State Department is preparing to compensate victims of mysterious brain injuries colloquially known as "Havana Syndrome" with six-figure payments, according to officials and a congressional aide.

Current and former State Department staff and their families who suffered from "qualifying injuries" since cases were first reported among U.S. embassy personnel in Cuba in 2016 will receive payments of between roughly $100,000 and $200,000 each, the officials and aide said.

Specific amounts will be determined to by the extent and severity of the victims’ injuries, which have included brain damage not limited to vertigo, cognitive damage, eyesight and hearing problems, according to the officials and aides.

The payments will apply only to victims employed by the State Department and their dependents. Other victims will have any compensation handled by the federal agency that employed them. About 20% of the total number of victims are or were employed by the State Department. Almost all the others were employed by the CIA or the Department of Defense, which have their own medical policies.

The officials and aide spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the expected publication next week of the State Department’s plan to compensate victims under the terms of the HAVANA Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year.

That draft rule is expected to be published early next week and will not become final until after a 30-day period in which public comment will be solicited. The State Department, along with the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, will consider the comments before enacting a final rule.

The State Department declined Thursday to discuss the amounts of the proposed payments but noted that the HAVANA Act authorizes it "to provide payments to personnel for certain qualifying injuries to the brain" and requires it to publish its plans for implementing such relief, which it said would happen "soon."

Despite nearly six years of investigation, scientists, physicians and government officials have been unable to determine the cause of the injuries, which some have speculated are the result of microwave or other types of attack from a foreign power. Russia is most often accused of being behind the alleged attacks, although there has been no evidence to back up such claims.

The mysterious injuries first began to be reported among U.S. embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016 and have since spread to nearly 70 countries on all continents except Antarctica. The number of reports has tapered off dramatically since the beginning of this year.