The NTSB recently affirmed the FAA’s denial of an airman’s application for a first-class medical certificate based upon an established medical history of bipolar disorder. In Petition of Hilton, the FAA denied the airman’s application based upon an approximately 9 year old diagnosis of bipolar disorder which disqualified the airman under FARs 67.107(a)(3) (first class medical), 67.207(a)(3) (second class medical), and 67.307(a)(3) (third class medical). The airman appealed the denial and, after a hearing, the ALJ affirmed the FAA’s denial. The airman then appealed the decision to the full Board.
On appeal, the airman argued that the bipolar disorder diagnosis was “invalid” and, thus, should not disqualify him from receiving a medical certificate. Specifically, the airman argued that the psychiatrist who originally diagnosed him with bipolar disorder “did not follow the specific criteria” set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (“DSM-IV”). However, the Board agreed with the FAA’s psychiatrist’s opinion that there “is more to a psychiatric diagnosis than just looking at the DSM-IV” and her concurrence with the airman’s bipolar diagnosis.
Additionally, the airman argued that his lack of symptoms of bipolar disorder outweighed the prior diagnosis and rendered him eligible for a medical certificate. However, in dismissing this argument the Board stated that “[w]hile petitioner apparently does not currently exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder, we find that petitioner’s original diagnosis, and the evidence of symptoms of bipolar disorder, a specifically disqualifying condition, outweigh the absence of symptoms at the current time.” The Board further held that, regardless of a petitioner’s current condition, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is, in and of itself, sufficient to deny a petitioner’s application for a medical certificate.
This case is certainly consistent with Board precedent. However, what I found interesting was the ALJ’s initial decision. Early in the decision the ALJ confirmed the significant burden faced by an airman in appealing the FAA’s denial of an application for medical certificate when he stated that the airman “is faced with a formidable if not almost insurmountable, obstacle here in this proceeding.” No surprise there.
But then, in an apparent attempt to empathize with the airman, the ALJ made the, in my opinion, cruel statement that “perhaps the door isn’t completely closed yet where your certification is concerned.” False hope, or not? I, along with many others, I suspect, would be curious to know under what circumstances the ALJ would actually find that the airman qualified for a medical certificate given the existence of the bipolar diagnosis. Unfortunately, Board precedent on the issue certainly doesn’t provide a lot of hope in that regard.