By: Sen. Susan M. Collins
Our nation has an obligation to support the patriots who defend our freedom and way of life. In the Senate, I have long worked to strengthen health care and education benefits for veterans. We must also protect and care for other American personnel who come into harm’s way when serving our country at home and abroad. In 2016, American intelligence and diplomatic personnel began experiencing unexplained serious medical harm, including in some cases permanent brain injuries, from what appears to be a mysterious directed energy weapon wielded by our adversaries.
Symptoms of these likely directed radiofrequency energy attacks have included severe headaches, dizziness, tinnitus, visual and hearing problems, vertigo, and cognitive difficulties. Many affected personnel continue to suffer from health problems years after the attacks.
“Havana Syndrome” is the term given to this illness because it first was identified among more than 40 U.S. Embassy staff in Havana, Cuba. Since then, at least a dozen U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou suffered symptoms. According to the press, there have been more than 130 total cases among American personnel, including right here in our country.
On June 7, the Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan HAVANA Act I introduced to provide additional financial assistance to the employees of the intelligence community and other federal agencies who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries at the hands of our foreign adversaries. I serve with many of the co-sponsors on the Intelligence Committee, and they share my deep concern and my determination to get to the bottom of what has happened to these brave men and women who have been attacked.
The full title of the HAVANA Act is Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks. As we investigate the source of previous attacks and seek to prevent future ones, this legislation will aid Americans who were injured and who continue to experience debilitating symptoms. Too many of the victims have had to battle the bureaucracy to get the medical care that they need for their injuries. This is completely unacceptable.
Our bill gives additional authority to the CIA Director and to the Secretary of State to provide financial support to these Americans who experience traumatic brain injuries from attacks that occur while serving our country. Due to limitations in the current law, several victims suffering from cognitive impairment are not receiving all of the assistance that they need to cope with the impacts of their injuries. The authorities provided in the HAVANA Act will help to rectify this problem.
I have spoken personally with some of the victims of these heinous attacks. This is a group that, unfortunately, is growing in number. To those victims, the HAVANA Act will ensure that they receive the financial and medical support that they deserve. It also affirms our commitment to making sure that our government finds out who is responsible.
I have repeatedly discussed this issue with CIA Director Burns, and I am heartened by his commitment to care for these victims and to get to the bottom of these attacks. We need a whole-of-government approach to identify the heartless adversary who is deliberately targeting American personnel.
The public servants who work in our embassies and consulates make many personal sacrifices to represent America's interests. They deserve our strong support when they are harmed in the line of duty, just as we care for soldiers who are injured on the battlefield.