"I've been treated like a dog by the government," is the way ex-Army corporal Stacey Abney sums up his fight to get more money from his Veterans Administration.
Abney, a 66-year-old man from Quinalan, Tex., came to Washington on a Trailways bus on June 17, 1975, to carry his picket sign first in front of the Veterans Administration and then the White House. On July 28, 1976, he took his protest to the steps of the Capitol.
Except for the 135 days he has served in the D.C. Jail, Abney has lived outdoors for the whole 27 months, sleeping on benches and under the main steps of the Capitol.
Abney has the strong look of a man who has spent most of his life as a laborer, first as a section hand on the Texas Pacific Railroad, then as a truck driver for the Army engineers in the European theater during World War II, and finally as a plumber's assistant in Dallas.
His protesting has not been without interruption.
During his picketing of the White House, Abney was arrested 11 times.
"By some sergeant, he kept arresting me. The first seven times the judge let me off and then I got one . . . he treated me rough, gave me 30 days on three charges and I had to serve 90 days in a row.
"After that I served a 45-day sentence. The judge said I was loitering, endangering President Ford's life.
"I went on more trials than Oswald or Ruby. But the D.C. Jail was pretty good."
Abney said he went to the "oth or 7th grade" in Texas, and has been working most of his life.
"I was in the Army three years, six months and eight days.
"When I got out I went to a small agriculture school, more like a high school."
His gripe against the Veterans Administration is the 10 per cent disability he was awarded for having contracted hemorrhoids while in the service.
"Hemorrhoids, that's all they said I had. I had rheumatic fever, gout, high-blood pressure, heart trouble, all from the Army. I can't work, I'm a sick man. They have to pay me what they owe me."
For the most part, the Capitol Police are sympathetic to this quiet, soft-talking man. They were concerned about his sleeping outdoors last winter and checked on him every once in awhile to make sure he had not frozen to death.
Capitol Police Officer Dennis D. Allward said, "Most of the Police feel sorry for him. Some of us bring him a container of coffee or hot soup and buy him a sandwich."
Abney gets along with the police and said, "Just five cops don't like me. The rest of them treat me like a father or a brother.
"At first I fought with the police; one sergeant called me a bum, kicked me one morning when I was sleeping, said I never worked in my life. He was wrong."
Linda Boyer, the press secretary for Rep. Ray Roberts (D-Texas) said, "We have gone through conventional channels. Mr. Abney was not satisfied. We took up his case and did everything we could. Beyond this point our hands are tied. There are limitations in what we can do."
But Abney goes on, a silent conscience. And how does a person live on the steps of the Capitol?
Food? "I went over to the Senior Citizens on K Street and couldn't get one red penny. I was run out like a sick dog is run out of a hen house.
"They said I had to come by and stay and work for four hours a day. I can't, I'm a sick man."
Aside from a handout that Abney gets from the Capitol Police or some other interested person, he supplements his diet by buying food in dented cans, day-old bread, some bologna, and once in awhile a piece of sausage from a nearby grocery store.
"Anything I can get cheap, it's enough to keep me going."
It was a humid day and Abney talked about laundry problems and keeping clean.
"These are the same clothes I had when I came here," Abney said while tugging on the sleeve of his blue work shirt and pointing to a pair of faded gray slacks. "These are what I mostly wear." He says he has a change of clothes.
During the summer he goes down to the local YMCA once a week to shower. He pays 25 cents for a towel and they keep another 75 cents until he brings it back.
He washes out his clothes and hangs them to dry while he showers.
"Sometimes they dry pretty fast, other times I change and just take the clothes and spread them out on the lawn over there."
During the cold winter days Abney only gets to the "Y" every two or three weeks.
Union Station is also handy for the toilet facilities and an occasional haircut.
If the police worry about the freezing and whether Abney will be around in the morning, he has a secret.
"I have my sleeping bag and two or three extra quilts for the evening. This disease I got is an inward fever and it keeps me warm."
Abney has four sisters and three brothers back in Texas, and one sister keeps him in money. His mailing address is General Delivery, and his sister sends him $50 or $100 once in awhile, and that is the only money he has.
Abney plans on keeping his protest alive. "I have no other place to go. I renew my permit every week."
When he thinks about the time he has spent protesting he has to laugh at himself, making his shoulders shake.
Then he gets serious: "What else can I do, I can't work, I'm a sick man. Maybe the only other person who knows that is my sister.That's why she keeps sending me money."