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Biden administration to compensate some ‘Havana syndrome’ victims up to $187,000

<i>Desmond Boylan/AP</i><br/>Tourists ride classic convertibles in Havana
AP
Desmond Boylan/AP
Tourists ride classic convertibles in Havana

By Kylie Atwood, Katie Bo Lillis and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

The US State Department has announced that US diplomats and family members impacted by severe “Havana syndrome” symptoms who required at least a year of medical assistance are going to be eligible for compensation payments of about $140,000 or $187,000.

The payments will be paid in a one-time, lump-sum tax-free amount, the department said on Friday. The amount will also change each year because it will be tied to the State Department pay-scale.

Dating back to at least 2016, US diplomats, spies and service members around the globe have been struck with a mysterious set of symptoms now colloquially known as Havana syndrome. While the US intelligence community has so far been unable to determine what — or who — is causing the spate of injuries, the Biden administration has been under increasing pressure to provide support to victims, some of whom are struggling with steep medical costs and loss of employment due to their injuries.

Not all victims with reported symptoms will receive payments.

The department said those who qualify will have to have experienced an “injury to the brain” — which they define as an acute brain injury, a medical diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury, or have persistent and disabling neurological symptoms — which will need to be assessed and diagnosed in person by a neurologist who is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). The payments are also only for diplomats and their family members who were impacted from January 2016 onward.

The Havana Act, which was signed into law last year, authorized the department to provide payments to personnel suffering from brain injuries. The legislation also required the CIA to make decide if US intelligence officers who were victims of the mysterious Havana syndrome qualify for payments.

The CIA has not publicly posted its rules, which are considered classified. Agency employees or family members will be considered eligible if they demonstrate persistent neurological symptoms that cannot be otherwise explained and are believed to have been sustained as a result of agency affiliation.

Similar to the State Department, the agency will offer two compensation tiers: $187,300 — the equivalent of a year’s “Level 3” government salary — for very severe brain injuries and $140,475 — the equivalent of 75% of a year’s Level 3 salary — for all others who are deemed eligible. Victims will be eligible no matter where in the world they were when their symptoms began occurring.

Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who suffered from the syndrome who acts as an advocate for other victims, told CNN on Friday that the CIA has yet to contact him with any information about the new compensation regulations.

“The HAVANA Act builds upon existing authorities and provides CIA with the authority to make payments to employees, eligible family members, and other individuals affiliated with the CIA who are determined to have a qualifying injury to the brain. Other heads of agencies were provided similar authorities,” said CIA Director of Public Affairs Tammy Thorp on Friday. “CIA developed guidelines in partnership with the interagency, as part of a process coordinated through the National Security Council, and is beginning to implement these authorities.”

Now that the departments have determined the rules required by the legislation there is a 30-day period that is open for public comments. The State Department’s lead on this topic — Ambassador Jonathan Moore — wrote to all diplomats on Thursday, telling them to expect the rules and encouraging them to comment during in the coming month.

“Please note that although the Interim Final Rule will be on state.gov, public comment will not commence until the Interim Final Rule is published in the Federal Register,” Moore wrote in an internal message reviewed by CNN. “Once the IFR is published in the Federal Register, the 30-day public comment period will begin.”

The Washington Post was first to report on the compensation amounts that some victims are expected to receive.

The Biden administration blew past the April deadline to deliver the required regulations, frustrating Congress and victims as the interagency approach to this mysterious illness has already been plagued by dysfunction and complications.

As victims waited for the rule to be published, concerns mounted about the departments potentially coming up with separate definitions, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. They also cited concerns about the two departments coming up with different compensation amounts for victims. That could result in two US government employees from different agencies having similar incidents but being compensated with different amounts.

The departments met separately with outside doctors and specialists to determine how they would define an injury to the brain, sources said.

“It is incumbent that the CIA and State use the same criteria to implement the Havana Act. Both for who is considered a victim, and what level of compensation one is entitled to. I remain concerned that both agencies will not follow the intent of what is now law, based on the historic USG failure to take the victims’ cases seriously,” Polymeropoulos told CNN before the State Department released their rules. “Remember, this law is designed to provide financial relief for victims whose careers and lives have been destroyed, and who have suffered mental, physical and financial hardships.”

Because the CIA did not release their rules publicly, it remains unclear if the departments approached their compensation approached in the exact same way.

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