Howard Kavaler, now of McLean, Va., and his wife worked in the Nairobi embassy. His wife, Prabhi Guptara Kavaler, was killed. She was 45.

Kavaler recalls asking days earlier during a security briefing what would happen if the embassy were targeted in an attack similar to one at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American servicemen and one Saudi in 1996. He has never forgotten the response: "We are dead meat."

Congress approved $1.8 billion in emergency spending to improve defenses at its embassies and consulates around the world after the 1998 attacks. The victims' families say that indicates security was not as strong as it should have been at the time of the attacks.

"It's a matter of equity," Kavaler said. "The government bears some responsibility to assist us because of the fact that we were not provided a safe working environment."

More than 5,500 people were compensated by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, created by Congress after the 2001 attacks, with an average award of $2 million. In 2011, the Obama administration opened the fund to claims from thousands of first responders and volunteers who became sick after working at the World Trade Center site after the attacks.

The survivors of those killed in Nairobi also note that three Chinese families received $4.5 million from the State Department after U.S. warplanes accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

But previous efforts to provide the victims of the Africa bombings with more compensation have failed. The House voted overwhelmingly in 2002, 2007 and 2009 to support that effort, but the legislation languished in the Senate. The families have hired a Washington law firm, Crowell & Moring, to lobby Congress on the issue, disclosure records show.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, has long pushed for the compensation. In an interview, Blunt described the lack of progress as "a real inequity for the way these families were dealt with for more than a decade now."

Bartley, a spokeswoman for the families, said she worries that the bombings that had such a profound impact on her life are slipping from the public's consciousness. The tragedy for the families, she said, was the same as was experienced by thousands on 9/11.

"The horror was the same — it just wasn't on the same scale," she said. "We will keep pressing."