When is it War?

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Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

BAGHDAD, IRAQ. May 2008 -- A pair of U.S. Army soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th ID, and an Iraqi Army soldier use a laser range finder to pinpoint a sniper's location

If you were in Iraq in 2008, just after the wave of troops for the troop surge had crested with 160,000 or so American troops in country, you might have had a pretty good reason to think you were involved in a war. Three-hundred-and- fourteen American service members died in Iraq that year. They died in a war.

Jerico McCoy was there. He came home alive but is now arguing that America wasn’t at war in Iraq in 2008. McCoy believes that because Iraq had a sovereign government in 2008 that no state of war could have existed between that country and the United States. McCoy’s argument is one for the lawyers, and I suspect there will be a boatload of lawyers arguing this one. Yep, lots of lawyers with really nice suits and shiny shoes will be arguing this one because McCoy is suing an insurance company.

McCoy’s 2008 deployment was a second tour in Iraq. He was there in 2003 as well. But at home, after his second tour, he claims he developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had health insurance through his employer, Bank of America. But the insurance company refused to pay benefits because of the little clause that is in almost every civilian insurance health policy: that the insurer doesn’t cover injuries that occur from acts of war. Go ahead, take a minute to find your policy and read it. I’ll be here when you get back.

See, I told you so.

Now, the real question isn’t whether America was at war in Iraq in 2008. It’s whether Mr. McCoy’s insurance company should cover his PTSD claims or not. It seems pretty clear to me that we were at war in Iraq in 2008. It also seems pretty clear to me that McCoy’s insurance company made it perfectly clear on his policy that this is just the sort of thing it would not cover. But these are questions for the lawyers.

I sat on a panel discussion a while ago at a Carter Center symposium Rosalyn Carter put together to discuss health care, particularly mental health care, for returning reservists and Guardsmen. One of the panels in the symposium included some administrative and human-resources officers from big companies who were talking about what they were doing to hire veterans and what some of the obstacles were. Daniel Conti, from JP Morgan Chase, brought up this issue. So it’s obviously been on the minds of big corporations similar to Bank of America. But this is the first case I’ve heard of raising the issue.

McCoy should be able to get medical treatment through the VA, which has numerous programs set up to help veterans like him. He should be able to get the type of benefits he was seeking from his civilian insurer from the VA as well, but that could take a while.

Meanwhile, watch the lawyers.