President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks on the September jobs report from the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

Biden signs law seeking cause of Havana syndrome

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday said it is a “top priority” to determine who is responsible for a series of mysterious health incidents affecting U.S. personnel, widely known as “Havana syndrome.”

“We are bringing to bear the full resources of the U.S. government to make available first-class medical care to those affected and to get to the bottom of these incidents, including to determine the cause and who is responsible,” Biden said in a statement after signing into law the Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021, or the HAVANA Act.

The new law will subsidize care for victims and require the administration to report to Congress on the episodes. “Civil servants, intelligence officers, diplomats and military personnel all around the world have been affected by anomalous health incidents,” Biden said.

The federal government has not concluded whether the incidents are deliberate attacks on U.S. personnel. But CIA Director Bill Burns has called them attacks, and members of the Biden administration privately suspect that the health episodes are being caused by targeted energy attacks from a foreign power.

“Protecting Americans and all those who serve our country is our first duty,” Biden said.

Over 200 cases have been reported, with U.S. personnel stationed overseas and national security officials in Washington describing symptoms of sudden vertigo, dizziness, nausea and headache. Some who were receiving care at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

The public first became aware of the phenomenon after a cluster of cases among American diplomats and intelligence officers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana came to light in 2016.

“Some are struggling with debilitating brain injuries that have curtailed their careers of service to our nation,” Biden said. “Addressing these incidents has been a top priority for my administration.”

The media did not have access to the signing ceremony that was attended by several lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

“I have spoken personally with Havana Syndrome victims who were forced to battle the bureaucracy while dealing with their own health challenges. These Americans who experienced traumatic brain injuries from likely directed energy attacks while serving our country should have been treated the same way we treat a soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury on the battlefield,” Collins said in a statement.

“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,” she said.

——— (C)2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Visit at mcclatchydc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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