It’s been 36 years since 53 Americans were held as hostages in Iran for 444 days, and the U.S. government has finally agreed to hand over financial compensation to the victims.
According to the Washington Post and Time, President Obama signed a provision at the end of December to provide $4.4 million to each of the living 37 American Embassy employees (and to the estates of the 16 individuals who have since passed away) who had been held hostage in Iran three decades ago.
The total compensation equals $10,000 per day held in captivity when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized in Nov. 1979. Because the deal that allowed for their safe return — the 1981 Algiers Accords — prohibited the victims from filing lawsuits against Iran, the former hostages have been trying (in vain) to convince the U.S. government to provide compensation.
As the Washington Post put it, the 1979 incident “fractured relations between Iran and the United States and ultimately pitted the former hostages not only against the authorities in Tehran, but also against their own government.”
The hostage situation was recently portrayed in the movie “Argo,” and this movie, added to the increased media scrutiny over the Iran nuclear deal discussions in 2015, likely played an important role in getting the provision signed.
This incident isn’t the only case where compensation for American workers overseas became a complicated issue; it’s a notoriously tricky process to get the federal government to pay benefits for injuries — and even deaths — incurred in a foreign country while employed by the United States.
Despite the passage of legislation to protect overseas workers, such as the federal workers’ compensation program under the Defense Base Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers Act of 1921, the families of government contract workers often have to fight for financial compensation. As the New York Times reported this past December, it can take years for families to receive benefits even when their relatives have perished overseas as a result of terrorist attacks.
If it’s successful, this new provision could provide relief for future victims and families of overseas terror attacks.
In addition to providing $4.4 million to each victim of the 1979 hostage crisis, the deal also allocates payments of $600,000 for each spouse and/or child of a hostage in the incident. The provision will also remain open for the next 10 years so that other terror attack victims are able to receive compensation.