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March 11, 1988

Court Ruling Expected Soon in Alcoholism Case

JAMA. 1988;259(10):1436-1441. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720100004004

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IN THE NEAR FUTURE—probably before summer—the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case involving two veterans denied extension of educational benefits because of alcoholism.

The Veterans Administration, in denying the benefits, maintains that—in these two cases—alcoholism is willful misconduct and consequently the extension should be disallowed.

The case has excited widespread interest, since it initially appeared the court was going to rule whether alcoholism is the result of willful misconduct, as the Veterans Administration claims, or is a disease, as physicians have maintained for three decades. In fact, however, the court's decision is more likely to be made on very much narrower grounds, at least in the view of those arguing the case.

"Before argument, there was a lot of publicity over the notion that the Supreme Court was finally going to decide on whether alcoholism is a disease or not. Well, the court is just not