Over 40 U.S. government officials and family members who suffered mysterious brain injuries during their service overseas will finally receive guaranteed, long-term medical care thanks to a deal included in Congress’ year-end spending bill.
In 2018, U.S. officials serving at embassies in Cuba and China began to report strange sensations of sound and pressure, causing symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injury.
Who or what caused the sickness remains unconfirmed, despite efforts from the CIA, FBI, and other branches of the Trump administration to figure it out. The governments of those countries have denied any involvement in what became known as the “sonic attacks.”
Many of the Americans affected were medically evacuated back to the U.S., and though they were designated by the administration as victims of a “hostile action” while serving abroad, a number of them struggled to secure long-term medical care and other benefits due to the uncertain circumstances of the illnesses.
In a 60 Minutes piece on the situation in March, Commerce Department official Robyn Garfield—who suffered symptoms in China—said he did not have access to paid leave because his injury was classified as “pre-existing” and that his medical bills wouldn’t be covered beyond one year.
In February, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who wrote and advocated for the spending bill provision, told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter that his agency’s “perplexing response” to the issue had put some victims in limbo—particularly those who had served in China.
“All others who experienced the onset of their symptoms in China were deemed to have an ‘unconfirmed’ condition, leaving these individuals and their families without an adequate explanation or support,” wrote Shaheen. “The group from China in particular is increasingly feeling isolated and left behind by their colleagues and leadership at the State Department.”
Lawmakers had come to a bipartisan agreement on the provision before it hit a snag. The New York Times reported last week that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) opposed it. A spokesperson for Jordan told The Daily Beast that the congressman was concerned the proposal “gives broad permanent authority” to multiple federal agencies to provide “additional benefits for undefined injuries and an indefinite amount of time.”
In addition to providing long-term care, the language in Congress’ bill also entitles victims to pursue workers’ compensation for missing work due to illness.