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Diplomat with ‘Havana syndrome’ sues State Department, Blinken for discrimination

A State Department official who alleges he contracted “Havana syndrome” in 2017 has sued Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the State Department for disability discrimination, according to court filings.

Mark Lenzi filed his suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and has accused the State Department of initially downplaying the health risks of Havana Syndrome, according to The Washington Post.

He said an agency-affiliated doctor refused to diagnose him with the condition, meaning he received less support than other colleagues, according to the Post.

Lenzi, a diplomatic security services officer, said he and his family began experiencing “sudden and unexplained mental and physical symptoms” while stationed in Guangzhou, China, in 2017, CNN reported.

He has alleged in his filing that he was later diagnosed with a brain injury and his career with the agency has stagnated with his requests for promotions and foreign postings denied.

Lenzi added that he has previously filed three complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but decided to pursue a civil suit after they were dismissed, the Post reported.

The State Department told The Hill it does not comment on matters in litigation.

“Secretary Blinken believes that hearing directly from those impacted is the best way to stay informed about how these incidents are impacting affected employees and family members. In two recent calls to affected employees, in September and November, Secretary Blinken re-emphasized the priority he attaches to this issue and his focus on ensuring the safety and security of the workforce and their families,” a state department spokesperson said.

“Due to privacy concerns and for security reasons, we do not discuss specifics or Embassy operations, but we take each report we receive extremely seriously and are working to ensure that affected employees get the care and support they need,” the statement added.

The spokesperson also told The Hill that as part of the National Security Council-led interagency response effort and in coordination with its partners across the U.S. Government, the department is “vigorously investigating reports of AHIs wherever they are reported.”

“The interagency is actively working to identify the cause of these incidents and whether they may be attributed to a foreign actor, and is focused on providing care for those affected,” the statement said.

Havana syndrome was first reported at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba in 2016 when American officials began to get mysteriously ill. Some needed hospital treatment for months, and others had brain injuries. 

The cause of the illness is yet unknown, though some believe it is caused by an attack by U.S. adversaries using radio wave weapons.

Blinken in November had announced new leadership of the agency’s task force addressing so-called Havana syndrome cases, promising to find answers on the mysterious incidents impacting hundreds of staff with debilitating health symptoms.

“We need to do everything possible for our people, to care for them, to protect them, to get to the bottom of what happened,” Blinken said.

President Biden has previously pledged to support those with “Havana Syndrome” and signed into law a bill in October that provides financial support to U.S. government officials who have fallen victim to “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 written statement on Oct. 8. “Protecting Americans and all those who serve our country is our first duty, and we will do everything we can to care for our personnel and their families.”

Updated at 9:02 a.m.

Tags Antony Blinken havana syndrome Joe Biden Lawsuit State Department

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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