HAMPSTEAD, NC (WWAY)– We just marked the 9th anniversary of September 11th, a date many will never forget. But some of the men and women who responded when the twin towers fell, feel like they’ve been forgotten now that they need help. A bill sitting in the U.S. Senate could make a huge impact in their lives, even here at home.
“It was just a tragedy that you would never want to see in your life,” Richard Dambakly recalls. He saw the twin towers fall. Moments later, he was there working at the site. As a Verizon employee, his job was to run cable to set up temporary communication lines for police and firefighters.
“They geared us up, gave us what we needed and we went back out, at least we thought we had what we needed. We didn’t really have the right things to protect us.”
For 4 months, 7 days a week, he worked 12 to 16 hour days at Ground Zero. That’s also when he started to cough.
“After 4 months the cough was so bad that one of the days driving back to my house I was coughing so bad, felt like my chest was about to explode.”
Dambakly was diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma, a blood cancer. He went through five months of extensive chemo. He blames his diagnosis on the toxic dust he inhaled while working at the site. But this year, Dambakly and hundreds of other first responders were left out of the Ground Zero Settlement Agreement.
“If I get cancer again, who’s gonna pay my bills? Who’s gonna pay the bills for chemo? Realize how expensive it is for chemotherapy? Hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Right now, there’s a compensation bill in Congress that would help Dambakly, as well as others who could get sick in the future. It’s already passed the House. Now it’s in the Senate. But time is running out. If it’s not passed during this lame duck session, it’s feared the upcoming Republican majority in the House will not approve the bill.
“The people that have to pass this bill, they didn’t work there that day. They weren’t there to help clean up. They didn’t put in the time to make everything ok for us to live again.”
We contacted both Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan. After our story aired Wednesday night, we received this statement from Senator Hagan:
“Within days of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the EPA designated Ground Zero as safe. But that was clearly not the case because fire fighters and other Ground Zero first responders continue to suffer from a host of health problems resulting from the attacks. Their health care is subject to the annual budget process, and we must develop a stable plan to provide them with health care.”
Senator Burr still has not returned our calls.