RAWLINS — In the beginning, Tina chased Brian.
But since the end, Brian has been chasing the federal government for Tina.
As she was dying, she made a request.
She asked Brian to fight to change federal law so that terminally ill patients like herself could bypass a five-month waiting rule for Social Security benefits.
He said yes.
Yes, because he loved her for 30 years.
Yes, because they believed that it was the right thing to do.
“It may be too late for me and you but what about all the others out there that are getting blindsided, just like we did?” Brian recalled her saying.
Fulfilling the promise to Tina Moyer has proven to be an uphill battle, maybe even impossible.
On days off, Brian Moyer sits in his quiet, one-story house urgently tapping away at a laptop with a mastiff, Holly, by his side.
Would Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewa Tribe be interested in supporting his cause? What’s the status of the resolution with the American Postal Workers Union?
Moyer’s life is strikingly different than when Tina was there.
Tina cooked and cleaned and made the house feel warm.
She was the outgoing, energetic one. Brian was quieter.
She was the one initially interested in him when they met through mutual friends in early 1980s.
While Tina ran the house, Brian focused on being the primary breadwinner. They’re traditional values, and he’s proud of them.
These days, he’s not so quiet.
When not on the computer, he’s working the phone, reaching out to anyone he thinks can help him fulfill his promise to Tina.
Moyer wrote a petition on change.org, which has garnered about 325 signatures. It calls on the president and Congress to eliminate the five-month waiting rule for terminal patients.
“If this can happen to Tina and I, it can happen to you and your family,” the petition states.
They call it “The Good Fight.”
Moyer has roped family and friends into the cause.
Together they have reached out to the Michigan Building Trade Council, the United Auto Workers and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – a group of Americans who fought fascist Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
One lobbyist recalled Brian calling him to talk three times in recent months. His group still hasn’t taken a position on the issue.
“Brian is the type of individual where he is like a junkyard dog on a bone,” said his brother, Larry Moyer.
In high school in his native Michigan, when Brian played football he walked, talked and breathed football. He applied the same intensity to his careers in the U.S. Marine Corps and journeyman carpentry.
The intensity has re-emerged with Tina’s illness and death.
How could it not?
It was so sudden – Tina complaining of back and side pain and 11 weeks later, dead — that Brian has matched it with the same force.
Nearly a year ago – Nov. 16 – Dr. Wayne Couch and a radiology team at Memorial Hospital of Carbon County discovered cancerous lesions on Tina’s spine and a mass on her right lung.
Treatment sent Tina and Brian to Casper, where additional cancer was found on her lung, neck, lower spine, shoulder, hip and pelvic bone.
After her lungs were drained three times, after the right lung was fused to the inside of her rib cage to prevent collapse, after surgery to install a drain port in her chest, Tina decided to return home to die.
It was Jan. 3.
As her condition declined, members of her French-Canadian family – she had 14 siblings – traveled to Wyoming to say goodbye. Brian and Tina had moved to Wyoming when Michigan’s economy declined.
On the morning of Jan. 23, Brian left Tina’s bedside to refill coffee in the kitchen.
A moment later, Holly the dog – who never left Tina’s side – came after him. It was the signal Brian needed to return to the bedroom for the end.
Brian held Tina in his arms.
“She very weakly said, ‘I love you,’” Brian said.
“I told her I loved her, she would always be my girlfriend.”
Ten minutes later, Tina slipped into unconsciousness. An hour later she died.
She was 52.
Brian’s fight against the Social Security system is a constructive place for his feelings.
“I’m harnessing my energy and my anger,” he said. “I have nothing but contempt for the government. A lot of anger.”
Tina worked and paid into the Social Security system beginning with her first job as a teenager.
Cancer forced her to leave her job in the produce department of Rawlins’ City Market. She needed Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits to cover medical expenses. She deserved the money.
That’s how she and Brian saw it.
A month after she was diagnosed, Tina was approved for Social Security benefits. The hitch was that the Social Security Administration makes people wait five months before payments begin.
“The five-month waiting period ensures that during the early months of disability, we do not pay benefits to persons who do not have long-term disabilities,” said Gina Ramer, a Social Security spokeswoman based in Denver, via email.
Congress is trying to prevent paying out benefits to people who have short-term disabilities that last less than a year who can eventually heal and return to work.
It’s an anti-fraud measure.
But terminally ill patients like Tina don’t have five months. They need the money immediately, Brian said.
Had Tina survived five months, her monthly benefit would have been $754.
But because she died, Brian received a Social Security Lump-Sum Death Payment of $255.
“This rule is, from my perspective, the government’s way of stonewalling in hopes that the terminally ill will die before any payment will have to be made,” Brian wrote in the change.org petition.
There have been victories in Brian’s fight.
The president of the Wyoming Association of Correctional Employees Local 626 wrote an email to members and encouraged them to sign Moyer’s petition on change.org.
The attention, it is hoped, will nudge people at the federal level.
On Sept. 27, the Michigan Senate adopted a resolution urging Congress to change eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits for the terminally ill.
There have been setbacks, too.
While Wyoming’s two senators and one representative have been understanding of Brian’s attempt to change the law, none have signed their names to a bill before Congress, the Social Security Fairness for the Terminally Ill Act of 2011.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., would eliminate the waiting period for disability insurance for the terminally ill. Shuler introduced the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2011. It lingers in a subcommittee.
The bill will die if it isn’t passed by Jan. 3, when the current session of Congress ends.
Shuler has decided not to run again. He leaves office in January.
Social Security — the much-debated entitlement program that some estimates say won’t have enough money in 25 years to guarantee recipients full benefits — may be too hot to touch.
Brian said Sen. John Barrasso is most sympathetic to his situation among Wyoming’s delegation. Barrasso believes that “any solution must balance helping people with terminal illnesses receive their benefits in a timely manner while ensuring the integrity of the [Social Security] system,” his spokeswoman, Laura Mengelkamp, wrote in an email.
“When a loved one is dying, fraud prevention and fiscal reality understandably aren’t things that a family thinks or cares about, nor should they be,” Sen. Mike Enzi’s spokesman, Daniel Head, wrote in an email, explaining that the five-month rule should be part of a conversation on overall Social Security reform.
Christine D’Amico, a spokeswoman for Rep. Cynthia Lummis, said in an email the disability portion of Social Security will run out of money in 2016, “at which time there will be a 21 percent cut in disability benefits across the board.
“We need to get the disability program on sound financial footing and only then will we be in a position to consider other adjustments like those proposed by Mr. Moyer.”
Brian is patient.
He’s also an optimist.
He and his friends worked for five years to change a portion of Michigan’s concealed weapons law from “may issue” to “shall issue.” The difference in semantics, he said, can prevent discrimination against people of color and others from obtaining weapons.
Tina was a lifelong Catholic. She believed in social justice and felt compassion for other terminally ill people.
Love of thy neighbor compelled Tina and Brian to push to change Social Security eligibility.
But love of each other has kept Brian going after Tina died.
“When you would go to their house, even though she was really sick, instead of Brian getting frustrated, they lit up when they saw each other,” said Val Brown, a family friend who served as Tina’s hospice volunteer. “I have never seen people love each other so true.”
Tina believed in life after death.
She talked to Brown about “how she would miss Brian when she passed away,” Brown said. “And how she wanted him to be OK.”