In August, 2018, the Department of Justice issued a Press Release announcing that it had indicted four pilots for making false statements on their medical applications. In each case, the airman failed to disclose that the airman was receiving Veterans Administration (“VA”) benefits for a medical condition that would likely have either disqualified the airman from receiving a medical certificate, or would have certainly subjected the airman to additional scrutiny and/or testing requirements by the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine.
The airmen were “caught” when the FAA cross-checked its database of airmen holding medical certificates with the VA’s disability benefits database. Initially the investigation has been limited to California and has discovered 70 “hits” that are currently being investigated and may result in additional indictments. It is our understanding that this cross-checking is going to be expanded to the entire country at some point, which could very well disclose a significantly higher number of “hits.”
This is reminiscent of the FAA’s 2002 Operation Safe Pilot in which it performed a similar cross-check, but with the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) disability database. Operation Safe Pilot resulted in prosecution of forty pilots who were receiving SSA disability benefits for conditions that would have either disqualified the airmen from receiving a medical or would have triggered further inquiry by the FAA. After Operation Safe Pilot, the FAA revised the application for medical certificate to broadly request in Question 18(y) regarding “medical disability benefits.”
Depending upon the circumstances, airmen have at least two options for dealing with the situation:
- An airman can contact the FAA via letter and disclose the previously omitted information regarding both the medical condition and the receipt of disability benefits. It is also helpful to provide an explanation for the non-disclosure, to the extent that the airman has a reasonable explanation for failing to disclose the information. This may persuade the FAA that the failure to disclose was not intentional, but merely a misunderstanding etc.; or
- The airman can apply for a new medical certificate and disclose the medical condition and receipt of benefits on the application. Then when the airman goes to his or her aviation medical examiner (“AME”) for the medical examination the airman can explain the situation to the AME.
In either instance, the airman will want to have all of his or her VA medical/disability records available to provide to the FAA. However, an airman should keep in mind that any information he or she provides to the FAA could potentially be used against the airman in a criminal prosecution. So, it is important for the airman to be very careful about what he or she says to the FAA or AME.
Although pursuing one of these two options does not guarantee that the airman will not be prosecuted, coming clean and correcting the record before the airman is “caught” may convince the DOJ that prosecution is unnecessary. However, even if an airman is not prosecuted, it is quite possible that the FAA will follow its standard playbook and revoke all of the airman’s certificates (pilot, mechanic and medical) as a sanction for falsifying the airman’s medical application(s).
If you find yourself in this situation, please give me a call and I will be happy to assist you in working through this process.