The FAA is cross-checking former military pilots’ medical certifications with the disability benefits records of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Any errors or omissions – intentional or not – could jeopardise a pilot’s licence. According to a Washington Post story, the two-year investigation revealed about 4,800 pilots who may have submitted incorrect or false information as part of their medical applications.

In a 15 June letter to the industry, FAA Deputy Administrator Katie Thomson said several thousand pilots appeared to have questionable medical records. She wrote that roughly 2,550 cases had been resolved, with some 60 pilots told to “cease flying unless and until” they address disqualifying medical conditions. 

The expectation is that the FAA investigations may impact more helicopter pilots than fixed-wing ones, thanks to the nature of combat operations carried out by rotary aircraft, leading to a higher frequency of claims and benefits paid out by the VA.

The core of the probe is how pilots have responded to Question 18y of FAA Form 8500-8, “Application for Airman Medical Certificate,” which asks if a pilot has received medical disability benefits. Pilots who previously indicated a negative response but are now found to have received VA benefits could be charged with providing a false statement to the government. Resulting legal options include the loss of the pilot’s medical certificate, airman’s certificate, or both.

In June, the FAA, responding to industry pleas, laid out a path for veteran pilots to reconcile medical records that triggered reviews. But that response, which can include emergency certificate revocations and criminal prosecutions, falls short of the amnesty sought by the aviation industry and offered in past investigations and can leave pilots ineligible to fly for months or more.

“It is imperative that the FAA and VA use a transparent, fair process to resolve any discrepancies in the disability records of veteran pilots,” said HAI President and CEO James Viola. “That is what we owe our veterans – and it is also essential for the vitality of our aviation community.”   

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