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Retired NYPD cop fighting for 9/11 benefits as he battles cancer

Retired NYPD Sgt. Sean Cameron at his sister's

Retired NYPD Sgt. Sean Cameron at his sister's home in North Babylon on Thursday.   Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Retired NYPD Sgt. Sean Cameron, 51, is dying of cancer.

Instead of peacefully sharing his final days with his wife, two children, and 71-year-old mother, Cameron is fighting the NYPD Pension Board.

Cameron and his lawyer, Jeff Goldberg, insist he is owed a disability claim for his work at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. The pension board has said their records show the retired cop has only 20 of the 40 hours required at the pile for eligibility.

Goldberg said Cameron has a sworn affidavit showing he was at Ground Zero well beyond the required hours.

“The police department makes you jump through hoops,'' Goldberg said. "A judge will say that Cameron’s affidavit is enough evidence … My concern is how much time [Cameron] has left on this earth.’’

Cameron retired in 2017 and moved his family from upstate Orange County to a quiet Myrtle Beach community. He was diagnosed with colon cancer several weeks later.

Since then, his cancer has moved at a fast and furious rate, spreading to his liver and lungs.

“I worry for my family,’’ said Cameron, who rested last week at his sister’s North Babylon home after chemo treatments at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Commack.

In the past two years, Cameron and his mother, Danielle Wydra, have traveled from South Carolina to Long Island every two weeks for the treatments. His mother either drives the 12 hours to Long Island, or takes a plane with her son.

Nearly 3,000 people, including several hundred first responders, were killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, hundreds more who were in and around Ground Zero at the time of the terrorist attacks are sick and dying from cancer and other illnesses linked to toxins that engulfed lower Manhattan after the towers fell.

In his case, Cameron said he is grateful his wife, Claudia, didn't  "let me near my baby girl after working those recovery shifts at the disaster site, as I never imagined I was in such danger from the dust that settled on everyone and everything.’’

The pension board’s medical board confirmed Cameron’s cancer as 9/11 related but it accepted only about 20 hours of Cameron's presence at the site, Goldberg said. 

NYPD police roll-call records, or detail rosters that can verify Cameron’s presence at Ground Zero in the first 48 hours after the terrorist attacks cannot be located. Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell, an NYPD spokeswoman, said the case is still being reviewed. No one from the pension board was available for comment.

“[The pension board members] are playing hard ball which is what they should be doing with fake cases,’’ Goldberg said. “They should be using common sense and compassion for Sean.’’

According to Cameron’s affidavit, he was inside a Burger King restaurant across from the World Trade Center taking shelter with several dozen civilians when the first tower collapsed.

Cameron said he bandaged their bleeding wounds caused by falling debris. He used napkins, paper towels and toilet paper to “press against wounds to help slow or stop the bleeding … I helped rinse the dust from their eyes and faces,’’ he wrote in the affidavit.

Everyone stayed inside the restaurant until after the second tower collapsed, according to the affidavit. When Cameron ventured out, he testified, "it became apparent from the sheer chaos that there was not much I could do, and I was unable to locate anyone in command … apart from one uniformed police officer who seeing my shield advised that everyone on the job was being called back to work for additional tours.’’

Cameron, who served in the Navy, retired from the NYPD after 24 years. He was working with the Queens District 20 NYPD transit command on Sept. 11. Cameron said he was later promoted to sergeant and worked Manhattan’s court section for eight years.

The burden to find NYPD documentation that lists times and locations is on Cameron or any other NYPD officer who finds themselves in a similar situation, said John Feal, of the Nesconset-based Feal Good Foundation, a nonprofit that was instrumental in getting permanent federal funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. 

“Sean’s case is not the first, and will not be the last to be denied on a technicality,’’ Feal said, calling the pension board’s delay on Cameron’s disability "disingenuous." “Sean’s proof of presence is his VCF [Victims Compensation Fund] claim.’’ 

Cameron’s wife, Claudia, will have to start the process all over again if her husband dies before a decision is made by the pension board. 

“It’s just been tough,’’ she said. “I love my husband and I have to be strong for him and our kids. … What happened to those 20 years and all those hours of service? He was always about the job, doing the right thing — always by the book.’’

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