The Few, The Proud, The Shattered

Tina Richards' son returned, suicidal, from Iraq battlefields. Now, the Missouri woman is waging her own war in Congress.

On January 30, Richards attends her first congressional hearing: "Exercising Congress's Constitutional Power to End a War." She listens as the Senate Judiciary Committee discusses responses to President Bush's call for a troop surge. When Senator Orrin Hatch says opposition to the plan would demoralize the troops, Richards suddenly pipes up: "Stop the surge!"

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin raps his gavel, but Richards continues: "Bring the troops home, please! My son is broken! He cannot go for a third time and come back!"

The next day Richards begins visiting various lawmakers' offices armed with one of Cloy's poems. She has to convince someone that her son shouldn't return to war.

Tina Richards
Charles Steck
Tina Richards
Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is one of numerous political players whose attention Tina Richards has captured.
Charles Steck
Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, is one of numerous political players whose attention Tina Richards has captured.

In the six months since Richards relocated to Washington, she has maxed out her credit cards and collected parking tickets of unspeakable sums. She has no income, no health insurance and shares a cramped, $700-a-month bedroom in a Maryland house with her thirteen-year-old daughter.

It's a fragile existence, to be sure. But to a woman who ran away from home at eleven and never finished high school, the life of a D.C. lobbyist is clearly exhilarating. "I used to be a very private person," points out the CEO of Grassroots America, the nonprofit Richards incorporated to formalize her lobbying.

Hair curled, nails manicured, briefcase swishing against her hip, Richards walks into Congress with the look of her former profession: claims adjustor for State Farm Insurance. She begins each day by filching a copy of Congressional Quarterly Today from a lawmaker's office, then heads to the cafeteria to plan her agenda over several Marlboro Lights.

On the way to a hearing she pauses outside an elected official's office to print "BRING THE TROOPS HOME" in the official's guestbook. Inside the offices her insistent but non-confrontational style contrasts with the noisemaking tactics employed by more radical activists.

The lobbying is slow going in the beginning. "Sorry, you're not a constituent," plenty of lawmakers' assistants say. Richards keeps going back, until she finally secures sit-down sessions with politicians from both sides of the aisle.

The responses to Cloy's story, she says, vary from tears to indifference. According to Richards, California Representative Jerry Lewis replied, "Well, ma'am, your son signed the paperwork, didn't he?"

Richards presses on, ever mindful that on March 24, 2007, Cloy must report to his reserve unit, and he doesn't yet have VA paperwork saying he's unfit for service.

In late February, Richards has a meeting with one of the most respected voices on military issues in Congress: retired Marine Corps colonel, Representative John Murtha. An early critic of the war, the Pennsylvania Democrat promises to look into Cloy's situation, according to Richards.

Two weeks later, as the House is preparing to approve the supplemental defense spending bill that includes a resolution for a September 2008 troop withdrawal, activist videographers capture a chance encounter between Richards and Representative David Obey of Wisconsin. The Democrat is one of the longest-serving members of Congress and voted not to invade Iraq four years ago. Their six-minute exchange becomes unpleasant when Richards asks if Obey will vote against the supplemental.

"We're using the supplemental to end the war, and it's time these liberal idiots understand that," Obey replies. Richards presses him. The congressman's tone grows bitter. "Do you see a magic wand in my pocket? How the hell are we going to get the votes? We ain't got the votes for it. We do have the votes — if you guys quit screwing it up — we do have the votes to end the legal authority for the war."

The video surfaces on Dozens of hate e-mails come pouring in. "Here's a poem," writes Eric Goethe. "Roses are red, violets are blue, your son is a Moron and so are you."

Within days Richards is appearing on 24-hour news channels to defend her targeting of Democrats. When Glenn Beck, the conservative CNN talk show host, characterizes her as "far-left," she counters: "There are a lot of people on the right who want the war to end. It's not a right-left issue. It's a right-wrong issue."

March 24, 2007: Richards hasn't heard back from Representative Murtha and Cloy has gotten no news from the VA. He reports to a Marine Corps detachment in St. Louis sweating and praying his name won't be on the activate list. Moments after roll call, Cloy learns he's off the hook. He barely has time to process the information when a representative from the Department of Veterans Affairs approaches. "Are you Cloy T. Richards II?" asks the man, extending an envelope.

"Service medical records show you were not treated for post-traumatic stress disorder during active military service," the paperwork states. "However, the VA exam dated February 12, 2007, shows you have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to your military experiences. Service-connected compensation has been granted for post-traumatic stress disorder because you were exposed to extremely stressful events during your active duty military service...."

The VA has determined that Cloy is 70 percent impaired because of PTSD. He also rates compensation for an injured knee and for the ringing in his ears. He will receive monthly payments of $1,319 retroactive to July 15, 2005 — the date of his honorable discharge — and "until further review."

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