'Havana syndrome' U.S. diplomats get benefits in spending bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. diplomats who mysteriously fell ill in Cuba and China would get long-term emergency health and other benefits under a $1.4 trillion spending bill lawmakers unveiled on Monday.

Over 40 U.S. government employees were affected by the incidents, which started in 2017 and have not been explained. They helped lead President Donald Trump to reduce staffing at the country’s mission in Havana.

Starting in 2017, dozens of staff in Cuba reported symptoms the included hearing loss, ringing in their ears, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with mild traumatic brain injury and initially described as the result of “sonic” or health attacks of some sort.

The State Department said in June 2018 that it had brought home diplomats from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering similar symptoms, which became known as “Havana syndrome.”

A Senate aide said the diplomats had struggled to obtain health benefits as they deal with their symptoms.

A provision in the omnibus spending bill unveiled on Monday would provide long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees injured as part of their duties in Cuba and China, allow their dependents to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims and would allow government employees to be compensated if their injuries meant they could not work full-time.

“There is still tremendous uncertainty surrounding the circumstances that led to these injuries, but that should in no way prevent our government from caring for those who have sacrificed so much in the line of duty,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who wrote the provision and led the push for its inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler