President’s Corner – Disability, Insurance and FAA Medical Reporting – What is a Pilot to Do? Let’s Be Honest!
Our office has received numerous calls from distressed pilots who have heard about the Department of Justice (DOJ) pursuing investigations and indictments against pilots who have falsified their responses on FAA medical applications regarding receiving disability benefits. This is similar to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) IG office and the Social Security Administration’s IG Operation Safe Pilot investigations and prosecutions a decade ago.
Many pilots, particularly military veterans, may be receiving disability benefits through the VA or other agencies. Other pilots have received disability benefits for temporary or ongoing conditions from their insurance carrier, state or employer. Some pilots may have only received benefits for a brief period of time when they had exhausted their sick leave and used disability until their medical condition had resolved and they returned to fly.
The FAA medical application (MedXPress) question 18.y. asks if you have ever or are currently receiving “Medical disability benefits.” The instructions for question 18 state “Each item under this heading must be checked either “yes” or “no.” You must answer “yes” for every condition you have ever been diagnosed with, had, or presently have and describe the condition and approximate date in the EXPLANATIONS block.”
Clearly, pilots who have ever received benefits need to check “YES” to question 18.y. on their medical application. This does not mean they are automatically not eligible for medical certification. Most cases involve either temporary conditions that have resolved, or in the case of many veterans, ongoing disability awards for service-related conditions. If those conditions have resolved and documentation is provided to the FAA or the pilot’s AME, in most cases, the pilot can be issued a medical certificate. Examples include surgeries with satisfactory outcomes, arthritis or injuries with minimal residua.
For ongoing conditions or those requiring treatment, issuing a medical certificate is dependent on whether the current condition and treatment meet FAA policy for medical certification or Special Issuance Authorizations. In most cases, it will. Examples include hearing loss, adequately treated hypertension and even obstructive sleep apnea with successful treatment. Adequate documentation of the current status, treatment and results of any studies required by FAA protocols is essential.
Some medical and psychological conditions may require FAA review prior to issuing a medical certificate or Special Issuance. A history of PTSD that was successfully treated in the past and no longer requires ongoing treatment is probably eligible for medical certification after FAA review. PTSD requiring ongoing treatment with counseling in pilots who are functioning well probably requires a Special issuance allowing the FAA to review the pilot’s status periodically. Use of medication for psychological conditions must fall within the FAA SSRI protocol and would definitely require a Special Issuance before obtaining a medical certificate.
A few pilots have forgotten to check 18. y. “YES” on previous medical applications despite receiving disability benefits. They may have done this unintentionally or elected not to do so for fear of not being able to hold an FAA medical certificate. This can often be corrected. In many cases, bringing in the VA Disability Awards Letter and a current status report from the treating physician to the pilot’s AME is adequate. Of course, the pilot should check “YES” to question 18.y. on the medical application with an explanation. On future medical applications, 18.y. should always be marked “Yes”, with the annotation “Previously Reported, No Change” if the condition remains stable.
For pilots who have falsified previous medical applications for more serious conditions, particularly those that would require a Special Issuance or would be disqualifying, the risk of adverse consequences is higher. To date, the DOJ is the federal agency pursuing action against some pilots, not the DOT / FAA, and those investigations seem to be focusing on pilots on the West Coast. If the FAA is alerted to falsifications, the pilot will receive a letter requesting full medical documentation be provided within 60 days.
Pilots may want to discuss how to correct erroneously completed medical applications with their trusted AME, their legal counsel and/or our AMAS physicians if this situation arises. There are no guarantees about the consequences of a DOT or DOJ investigation. My observation over the years is that pilots who are forthcoming with information, as opposed to the FAA discovering falsifications by other means, tend to have a better chance at a favorable outcome. Consequences for falsification can be severe, including loss of all FAA certificates (medical, pilot, flight and ground instructor, ATCS, mechanic) and ratings.
BOTTOM LINE: Complete FAA medical applications honestly and completely. Retain documentation for medical conditions and disability/insurance awards. Have a long-term trusting relationship with an AME or aeromedical expert that you can openly discuss all factors affecting your health and medical certification. If you have questions, contact our staff physicians to discuss your concerns confidentially.
Fly Safely, Stay Healthy,