The NTSB recently issued a decision holding that an airman with a history of psychosis and bipolar disorder is disqualified from holding a medical certificate even if the airman is no longer suffering from the maladies at the time of the medical exam. In Petition of Sean Allen Lenser, the airman applied for a third-class medical certificate and disclosed a medical history that included an involuntary admission to a psychiatric facility, references to symptoms of psychosis, bipolar disorder and hallucinations and the airman’s receipt of psychiatric medication. Based upon the disclosed medial history, the FAA denied the airman’s application based upon FAR 67.307(a)2 and 3(clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder and psychosis are disqualifying conditions), even though the airman was not suffering from the conditions at the time of the exam.
The airman appealed the denial to the NTSB and, after a hearing, Judge Mullins found that the airman had met his burden of proving that he was qualified for a medical certificate. Judge Mullins specifically found that the airman’s medical history was not significant enough to disqualify him from receiving a third-class medical certificate. The FAA then appealed the decision to the full Board citing several pages in the voluminous airman medical file and two prior NTSB decisions in support of its argument that the airman was not qualified. In response, the airman argued that he had been misdiagnosed and he submitted a doctor’s report to that effect. He also argued that he was qualified for a medical certificate based upon his current absence of symptoms.
The Board reversed Judge Mullins’s decision. It held that the evidence of the airman’s symptoms of psychosis and bipolar disorder, both of which are specifically disqualifying conditions, outweighed the influence of the doctor’s report regarding the misdiagnosis. The Board noted that “a psychotic episode or psychosis is sufficient to deny a petitioner’s application for a medical certificate and found that the airman’s medical records contained multiple reports referring to hallucinations, “which, under the regulations, would be sufficient to constitute a history of psychosis,” and other symptoms of psychosis and bipolar disorder.
Although the airman argued that “no clinical evidence of psychosis or bipolar disorder exists because no one observed petitioner while he was hallucinating,” the Board stated that “the regulations do not require observation of a petitioner while he or she experiences such symptoms; instead, the applicable regulation requires petitioners to have ‘no established medical history or clinical diagnosis’ of psychosis or bipolar disorder.” As a result, the Board concluded that the airman had not met his burden of proving his qualification to hold a medical certificate.
This case is another example of how difficult it can be for an airman to meet his or her burden of proving qualification once the medical record contains some evidence of a disqualifying condition. When receiving any type of medical treatment, an airman should be aware of potentially disqualifying conditions and should proactively work with his or her physician to minimize any adverse impact a medical diagnosis or treatment may have on the airman’s qualification for a medical certificate. If the airman’s physician is not a pilot or does not have experience with airman medical certification, the airman will need to educate his or her physician to assist in the diagnosis/treatment process. Information is key, both for the airman and the physician.