WASHINGTON – For about 20 years, he has slept under the Capitol’s east steps, in a cardboard hut beneath a granite archway.
But don’t call 84-year-old Stacy Abney a homeless person.
“I’m a 24-hour demonstrator,” the Quinlan, Texas, native corrects.
The target of his frustrations is the federal government. He disagrees with the Department of Veterans Affairs about how much it owes him for war injuries.
Abney says he deserves 100 percent disability payments for injuries he received in World War II, when he drove heavy Army trucks in England, France and Germany. Complications from rheumatic fever caused a whole list of injuries, from gout to heart trouble, he said.
For years he received partial benefits from the VA, until five years ago when he assumed an “all or nothing” stance, said Jim Fischl, a veterans services officer at the VA. According to Fischl, the benefits Abney is demanding – dating from 1948 – would equal $412,296.
Fischl said Abney is partially disabled and is entitled to a pension of $669 a month. He has offered him a temporary roof at the VA Medical Center until social workers could find him a permanent home. Fischl said Abney refused.
“It’s a very tragic case because it doesn’t need to be at all,” Fischl said.
Abney said, “The only thing to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Police are well acquainted with Abney, who they say has protested at the Capitol longer than any other demonstrator. Sgt. Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police said Abney is considered a “lone demonstrator,” a title fashioned for him after one of at least 13 appearances in a D.C. court.
Because he demonstrates alone, he does not need a special permit, Nichols said.
He said Abney has been arrested 49 times, from 1978 to January 1996. When the Capitol goes under security alert, for events such as a State of the Union speech, the public is required to leave the grounds. Abney has refused and, as a result, has spent up to six months at a time in jail.
Some days are better than others. When the Blizzard of ’96 filled the corridor with snow, Abney had to drape plastic bags over himself for protection.
“Hell any worse than this, God bless me when I get there,” he said.
Abney said he has two children and a common law wife, but wouldn’t know where to reach them.
He said his son and daughter live “somewhere in the United States. I don’t remember.”
Sitting on pieces of carpet on the 12th step of the Capitol’s east side, Abney directs tourists as they find their way past him. He said during the summer, groups from all over the world wait in the parking lot facing him to enter the building.
“They’ll be lined up the whole day out there,” he said.
On a cold gray day in February, Becky Tucker, 16, stared wide-eyed in disbelief at Abney’s sign, and instinctively emptied her pocket.
The sign begins, “I LOST MY HEALTH IN WORLD WAR II I HAVE A BAD HEART HI BLOD-GOUT-GROPSIE.”
Becky and Ronita Modderman, 15, had come from Lebanon, Ore., and paid $1,256 to visit “governmental things” with the Close Up Foundation.
Ronita said she had heard of the homeless situation in the nation’s capital. “I didn’t expect it on the steps, though,” she said.
A group from Brazil filed by, and some were perplexed enough to translate Abney’s sign. A garbage truck passed, and Abney waved, as usual.
Sometimes congressional staffers stop to leave some change. Or a Capitol police officer will ask how Abney is doing.
“Doing just fine, thank you,” he responds, politely. -30-