‘Forever changed:’ Terrorism victims push for passage of new bill to fix U.S. victims fund

WASHINGTON D.C. — Jane Synnestvedt survived unimaginable horror. She was on board TWA Flight 847 in 1985 when the plane was hijacked by terrorists after taking off from Athens. The FBI says the hijackers were connected to the terrorist organization Hizballah.


“When your freedoms are taken away, it changes your life,” Synnestvedt told our Washington News Bureau. “There are a lot of people that have a lot of long-term issues from being in a situation where you’re held against your will.”

Synnestvedt is from Jacksonville, FL and shared her journey this week on Capitol Hill with details that are hard to hear.

“We zig zagged across the Mediterranean with passengers being beaten and tortured,” Synnestvedt said during a press conference Thursday. “Robert Stedan, a Navy SEAL diver was brutally murdered, and his body thrown onto the airport tarmac for the world to see.”

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Synnestvedt came to Washington, D.C. with other survivors and victims’ family members to push for the passage of a new bill in Congress meant to help American families of victims and survivors of state-sponsored terrorism.

Congress established a fund in 2015 called the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST Fund) that gives compensation to victims and survivors who won judgements in court after a terrorist attack. But much of that money hasn’t been making it to the people who need it.

“It hasn’t provided enough relief,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). “We’ve only given four distributions in nine years to the families, and they need more support.”

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The new bipartisan American Victims of Terrorism Compensation Act is meant to correct those failures by providing funding and requiring payouts every year starting this year. The bill also enhances Congressional oversight of the fund.

The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), and Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY). Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) are leading a companion bill in the Senate.

“This legislation has been a long time coming,” said Lawler. “It reaffirms our commitment to support these families and ensure they receive the support they deserve.”

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“Although financial compensation cannot bring back their loved ones’ families, my district and across the country can rebuild their lives with the funds that they are entitled to through their judgements,” said Malliotakis.

Angela Mistrulli has been advocating for reforming the fund for years. Her father Joseph Mistrulli was killed in the World Trade Center in the September 11th terror attacks.

“Birthdays and anniversaries and holidays are forever changed, and we have to grow and evolve in that pain and trauma to live a normal life,” Mistrulli told our Washington News Bureau. “It’s extremely difficult. You don’t realize the void that is left in your life when a family member, especially a family member so close, being a father, or mother, or brother or sister is snatched. It reshapes you and there’s a lot of trauma.”

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The fund is paid for with criminal penalties and seized assets, not from taxpayer dollars.

We told you earlier this month how a watchdog report warned the fund is running low on money.

Survivors say fixing the fund is long overdue to help those with lifelong emotional scars.

“Victims of terrorism carry a prolonged grief with them throughout their lifetime,” said Mistrulli.

“You think you’re doing well and then you meet with people who have gone through the same thing and it’s difficult,” said Synnestved.

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