FAA Revokes Certificates Of 60 Pilots Getting VA Benefits


The FAA says it’s revoked the pilot certificates of 60 pilots as part of a project by the Department of Veterans Affairs to cross-reference its list of those receiving benefits with the medical records of active pilots. According to a Washington Post report, there are a total of 4,800 pilots, including 600 ATPs, who were under review because they are also VA beneficiaries. FAA spokesman Matthew Lehner told the Post about half the files have been completed and the 60 revocations were for pilots who “posed a clear danger to aviation safety.”

Lehner said most of those under review have nothing to worry about. “The FAA used a risk-based approach to identify veterans whose medical conditions posed the greatest risk to safety and instructed them to cease flying while the agency reviews their cases,” Lehner said in a statement to the Post. “The vast majority of these pilots may continue to operate safely while we complete the reconciliation process.” Some have been told to fix the paperwork submitted with their medicals while others have to get fresh medicals.

For its part the VA is trying to weed out fraudulent claims while also protecting public safety. “Given the serious safety issues involved with flying commercial airplanes, and to promote the proper use of significant taxpayer dollars, we have been proactively reviewing certain VA disability benefits paid to commercial pilots based on conditions that may be disqualifying if true,” Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael Missal said in a statement. “We will continue to work with VA and other stakeholders to ensure the integrity of the benefits and services reserved for our nation’s veterans.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Uh OH! The VA and FAA fixing what isn’t broke again … someone must not have enough to keep them busy this week?

  2. Because of yesterday’s Washington Post article this is huge. Right or wrong the story paints pilots (airline and GA) as liars and cheats. AOPA, EAA etc. have a lot of repair work to do.

    • Bingo! There is a reason Federal agencies are not supposed to share medical and/or personal data on citizens without getting a warrant. Otherwise the Federal government can and will have unlimited reach.

        • That’s why the NDR consent question along with any other legalese in the medical form. You are forced to sign off to those records searches or you don’t get the medical issued (assuming of course the medical part is passed).

  3. The system is not broken; pilots know they require medicals at known intervals based on their ratings. The FAA created AMEs because the system works; leave it alone! VA today, the Motor Vehicles Dept tomorrow matching speeding tickets to pilot certificates and creating a risk profile?

    • It certainly makes more sense if it were medicals the FAA were revoking, but the article says they were revoking pilot certificates. Not only is that an invasion of privacy, it is downright outrageous.

      • The FAA does not/can not “REVOKE” an airman certificate based on a medical condition. However, they will commence revocation for knowingly falsifying an application. A number of pilots learned that lesson when National Drivers Registry (NDR) came about.

      • One thing I learned from my instructor back at A&P school, which I already knew but didn’t, is the absolute Nuclear Option that the FAA has in their “Fraud and falsification” regs, which are in almost every 14 CFR parts.
        § 61.59 says IF you make false statement on any application for a certificate issued under this part (i.e. medicals certs are under 61.23 )
        THEN that is a basis for suspending or revoking any airman certificate, rating, or authorization you held

        Game over.

        In my example, clock attendance was critical at Pt 147 schools, and students would beg to be marked on time. But without blinking, the instructor would say flip off (but not flip), because FAA inspectors have an all-area airport ID and make unannounced visits and there’s always some FSDO Piece of Something around the corner, waiting to reward you for your good deed. “Hi, I’m inspector DB, can I see your attendance sheet? Hmmm, I can’t seem to find student X?”

        The teacher had an A&P AI, CFI MEI CFII, CFI-G, Comm rotor, ATP with a pile of Types, a dispatcher license, and a master parachute rigger cert.
        If he got caught on the attendance fudge, the FAA has every power to pull all of those, because once a liar…

        The FAA can take ANY false sworn statement you EVER made and extrapolate that to mean that EVERY SINGLE thing you ever signed for was a lie, and then throw away each and every cert you ever earned, even if there’s zero apparent connection. You can fudge a parachute log and loose your dispatcher license, you can fudge a maintenance log and loose your CFI ticket. You can fudge a flight entry and lose your A&P. They don’t care.

        As far as invasion of privacy, I’d read the privacy statement that you filled out with your airmen application. The Privacy Act parameters for the airmen registry are published, have a look at ” DOT/FAA 847″ which explains their allowed routine uses and cites their statutory authority to do so
        (k) Make personally identifiable
        information about airmen available to
        other Federal agencies for the purpose
        of verifying the accuracy and
        completeness of medical information
        provided to FAA in connection with
        applications for airmen medical

        This is not new, it’s been there for at least 14 years.

        Also, your current medical grade and date are in the public part of the airmen database. Anyone can download the whole database in a few minutes and see what medical you passed, when and any limitations / restrictions.
        California ran it against it’s disability list a few years back and found hundreds of people claiming disability that swore they were Class 1 medical (no exception) fit-as-a-fiddle.

        Hardly a privacy scandal. I fail to understand the outrage of calling out someone claiming to meet a very high medical standard (most of which is self reported) while at the same getting paid a tax free benefit after having gone through a very long and document-intensive process to verify a service connected disability, and both times signing paperwork, over and over, swearing under penalty of law the exact opposite of the other.

        As far as speeding tickets, no, but remember, every time you apply for a medical, you consent to match against the National Driver Register (NDR) which contains records on those who have had their licenses revoked or suspended, or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations. Again, not new, it’s been around for decades.

  4. First, it’s incredibly difficult for me not to use the colorful language this response should be peppered with, so do me a solid, dear reader, and reinsert them where you know they should go.

    WELL DONE, FAA! Hey everyone, let’s give the FAA a well deserved round of applause for really making a difference here! I mean, I know I was getting pretty disheartened every night when I would turn on the news and, yup, there was another 12 -14 fatal aircraft accidents which all augered into the orphanages and kitten rescue shelters, all caused by the same thing! Those ethically corrupt veterans who lied about their disabilities from what, servicing our nation in war? Pshhh! How could they not know that the injuries and treatment they were on would OBVIOUSLY cause any aircraft they were flying to simply fall out of the sky, into orphanages??

    Boy oh boy, I bet some of them were on…. Ibuprofen!! And maybe even the worst thing ever, they wanted to treat their ADD and took medication for that too! They aren’t nearly as brilliant as the FAA Medical Czars, and thought that being able to actually concentrate on the approach they were flying was probably safer than if they flew without taking the medication prescribed by their doctors! Duh! Haven’t they read the volumes of clinical studies which clearly find that pilots who take ADD meds crash all the time?! Cause there must be evidence of that, right? Cause wouldn’t that be odd that the FAA just unilaterally decides that they just don’t like it, and prohibit medication without evidence showing why, right? Gee, I wonder why all the military pilots who have been given the same medication, only they weren’t diagnosed with anything except being tired after a 14 hour flight, why they weren’t just falling out of the sky. They called them “Go-Pills”, and because they didn’t have ADD, it did just that, made them go.

    But no, professional pilots, really, the FAA cares about your mental health. Don’t worry about your career and livelihood, you can tell them you are having some issues you need to work though. They are totally not going to over react and suspend your means of making a living because you sought help.

    The FAA’s betrayal of veterans, for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON is pathetic, disgusting, and illustrates how foolishly the Aero-Medical Czars in OKC sets policy. Show us the data that provides concrete evidence that any of those pilots were a danger to anyone! Show us the data that shows an increased risk to safety when pilots who are being treated for treatable mental health issues! Hell, show us the data that clearly shows that pilots who are THC laden gummy two weeks before a flight represents a greater risk to the NAS that if he hadn’t!

    Don’t bother waiting, they never will because they can’t. The data doesn’t exist because the problem doesn’t exist. Those toddlers at Aero-Medical are acting less like evidence driven scientists and more like emotion and rumor driven middle school adolescents. Ya wanna know what data we do have that clearly indicates a clear and present risk to the safety of flight and the NAS? Professional pilots showing up to take the contros intoxicated on alcohol. Ever wonder why that happens so much lately? Ever wonder how many are doing that and don’t get caught? Ever wonder why the FAA is so pathetically inept that they don’t realize what the root problem is?

    They’re self medicating with the only drug they can take which they won’t necessarily lose their job over, alcohol. They try and go seek help, boom, they get put on the evil devil medicine, because God forbid they actually find treatment that works. No, the FAA would rather shove their inflated heads into the sand, not bother worrying about whether there are pilots flying around who are struggling with any number of mental health issues, pretend the problem is with veterans, make a big show of it, and solve EXACTLY NOTHING!


    • As requested, I inserted the colorful language to your diatribe and … my laptop melted 🙂 All you did was give me hypertension and now I can’t pass my medical 🙂

      I’ll second your sentiments, Pete. Esp. the last paragraph! Most — but not all — AME’s use the FAA medical requirement / process as a supplemental revenue stream … and little else. Non-pilot AME’s have no empathy for the fact that some applicants will lose their employment if they don’t have the piece of paper. AND — even though it doesn’t happen often — look at the number of ATP’s who die in the cockpit. So much for a class I. There are a few AME’s who have common sense and empathy but they’re few and far between. Getting a medical has been made to be a binary process; it should be a shades of gray process.

      On the one hand, the FAA is granting a young female without arms a demonstrated waiver to fly and on the other, they’re taking pilot licenses away from pilots who served the Nation. What the … (insert your choice of words)!

      I thought Dr Susan Northrup was gonna make a difference. Appears that ain’t so …

    • I am no fan of the FAA Aeromedical charade (every six months, FAA: Have you ever had a headache, Carl: “What’s a headache?), but I am not sure why this is such a sensitive issue, or how anyone is being “betrayed”

      Keep in mind that your current medical status is public information, and every person on the planet can download a copy of the airmen registry in under a minute with your last medical date and type, and run it against any other database, and with the level detail of the information contained, get a very high level of confidence in a match between it and another datasource where you made a benefit claim based on you supposed health issue.

      The state of California did something similar a few years back where they ran the list of people receiving state disability benefits against the public list of pilots with a Class 1 or 2 medical, and likewise found hundreds of people both completely healthy (as told to FAA) and completely disabled (as told to California).

      According to DOT/FAA 847, the FAA reserves the right to share your info with anyone in the gov’t to verify your medical statement; under their Privacy Act “Routine Uses” of your data in the “Aviation Records on Individuals” system , we see:

      (k) Make personally identifiable
      information about airmen available to
      other Federal agencies for the purpose
      of verifying the accuracy and
      completeness of medical information
      provided to FAA in connection with
      applications for airmen medical
      certification. ”

      So they claim the right to check if you are not able to keep your story straight on your medical application vs. what song and dance you are giving another government agency. By the dates in the Federal Register, this looks to be nothing new and has been around for at least 14 yrs.

      No one in the history of powered flight has been completely forthcoming on their Aviation Medical application. However, boys, girls, etc. the important thing is always to not leave a paper trail where anyone can check the holes in your story in 5 minutes. If you claim to be in tip top shape and claim a 1st or 2nd class medical, there’s not a lot they can do to check your story other designate an AME to listen to your eyes, heart, lungs for 10 min., which doesn’t uncover much, and an EKG which can find some obvious cardio issues.

      What they CAN do is see if you can keep your story straight or not. If chose to not read disclaimer when you sent your doc’s note and forms for your C&P exams to VA to support a claim for a service connected disability and signed all those declarations, and are eventually approved with a VA percentage, and receiving tax-free VA disability, I am not sure about the moral argument that this is somehow an unwarranted infringement of your personal rights to run a 10 second check if the various stories you are swearing under penalty of law match up or not.

    • If you tell the VA you are disabled with PTSD and you tell the FAA you haven’t had any mental health issues, you’re lying to at least one government agency. I guess for some people their hatred of the FAA trumps everything.

      • Agree.

        I see this in my profession and a physician. People who are ‘disabled’ and ride dirt bikes and work out at the gym.

        Trust me I hate the government as much as the next guy but I also hate cheating and lying, on anyone’s part.

        • Best comment so far. Maybe the FAA requirements are too stringent, but the fraud between VA (and LEO and other) benefits and those with FAA medicals is out of control.

        • welp, I’m the next guy and I don’t “hate” the government so…opps?

          Help me to understand, you hate the entity which’s charter is to protect You, the citizen, from nefarious beings. You hate the regulations that keep people safe in the air, on the roads/ You hate the government that works to protect you from entities that consider profit more important that your life? You hate the government that asks you to pay taxes in part to pay for a defense that keeps you safe from bad world players?

          What part of government do you really hate, the one that does not allow you to maybe to harm to fellow citizens because I’m missing something here.

          • I don’t hate the government at all, and in fact was an FAA employee for some time, defend them regularly, and completely agree that there should be medical standards in to protect the citizens. However, if you’re going to limit the medications and conditions a person can use or be diagnosed with, and use those issues to deny pilots the privilege of being a pilot as a means to that end, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they provide the data and studies which support the decision. Show me a study that a veteran with low grade, medically managed PTSD represents a greater risk to the NAS and public than another person without the condition. If they are going to prohibit people diagnosed with ADD from taking their medication prescribed by a doctor because somehow they will be safer pilots if they struggle with the frustrations of ADD than if it were treated, show us the data that indicates that. Show us the peer reviewed studies which will agree that a pilot who drank 6 beers 8 hours ago is safer than a pilot that took a cannabis gummy 3 weeks prior to the flight.

            They won’t because there is no data, because there is no studies that conclude any of that, because the “increased risk” they use to justify those restrictions are nothing short of contrived.

            The betrayal of the privacy of those who fought for our nation is a completely distinct and far more shameful issue. Should they have lied on their medical applications? Should anyone lie on their medical applications? The more useful question is WHY do they lie on their medical applications, and when I say “they”, how many pilots do you think that includes? Here’s my answer: “They” shouldn’t have to lie on their medical applications because they should be able to trust that the medications and conditions which the FAA will have concerns about will be based on rational, data supported analysis which they can show are actual risks.

            Like I said, the FAA does a LOT right, the vast majority of those who work for the agency are brilliant, passionate, and doing the work they do for all the right reasons. However, there are too many things that are detrimental to the industry, are based on obsolete justifications or no justifications at all, and make absolutely no common sense. Why I get so frustrated about it is because all that stuff that’s broken, THEY KNOW IT’S BROKEN! I get frustrated because instead of putting resources into fixing these issues, they put resources towards asinine initiatives like this to solve a problem that DOES NOT EXIST! No accidents or incidents have ever been attributed to the pilot’s medical condition which was not disclo

      • This is the exact reason many veterans try to cover up their PTSD because it is looked at unfavorably, even if it does not negatively impact their work performance. So a veteran who is hyper-vigilant and thus diagnosed with PTSD is considered a “risk.” Yet many non-veteran pilots go and get drunk to medicate their depression and it is ignored.

        Elton your comment shows you have no understanding of VA disabilities and the many ways PTSD can be diagnosed.

        • The best response to that is to be upfront with the diagnosis and provide evidence that it isn’t a problem. Lying about it no matter how understandable isn’t the right path, and you’re seeing the consequences. I imagine we both agree that the FAA’s ability to evaluate pilots as individuals is sorely lacking.

  5. Once you get past the over-hyped headline (5,000 unsafe pilots!) they admit the number of pilots in question flying professionally is more like 600. The meat of the story is more about fraud at the VA than a lapse at the FAA, but that is boring and hardly headline news.

  6. When AI hits the scene and starts to infer pilot behavior by analyzing myriads of data points…who cares if they have your SSN or not

  7. Astonishing! There are actually people who conceal medical problems that might interfere with their vocation/avocation. Who could possibly have suspected such a thing?

  8. The people who may be claiming disability falsely aspect of this is what stands out to me. Because I know of one or two pretty healthy looking individuals who would like to be on 100% disability (VA). One of them is pretty close to that already if I’m not mistaken. Having to work isn’t convenient though.

    Compared to the people you see on the Wounded Warrior ads and so forth, it’s not funny.

    It reminds me of the fireman with a bad back who got caught participating in bodybuilding contests some years ago.

    • Do you know how difficult it is to be rated for VA disability? Do you know that 100% VA disability does not prevent a person from working? You have no idea what these men and women went through. I had a buddy who got out after getting severely burned and needed a major skin graft, yet his disability rating was only 30%. Yes, he looks pretty healthy, but that does not mean there are no issues outside of what you physically see. I have another who messed up his back in service and 20 years later still has a lot of issues that affect his daily work, yet they rated him not service-connected.

      It is people like you who prevent veterans from wanting to speak up and get fixed.

  9. If you listen closely, you may hear the collective sigh of all the civilian pilots that did the same thing, but don’t have a VA medical record to rat them out. But, hey, this should *really* cut down on *all* those airline crashes due to pilot medical issues. Plus, we’ll all be really safe once we have “single-payer” “free” healthcare, so that the FAA can check on everyone equally…

    • Really! Do you have to make this about Trump? Do you know anything about VA disabilities? Do you know how difficult it is for Veterans to receive benefits? This is not about scamming the system, and this will end in massive lawsuits.

      I would genuinely like to know in what way you think these pilots scammed the system. There is nothing that says a disabled veteran cannot have a job while receiving VA disability unless they are TDIU, my guess is none of these pilots were. So please tell me how they “scammed” the system.

  10. Out of several hundred thousand pilots in the US and all that have been found fraudulent is 60? Maybe the FAA should spend more of its funding on expediting special issuances instead of wasting money on these expensive audits.

    • Or, maybe the FAA could stop issuing denials or requiring special issuance for things that have no actual proof or history of being a flight risk (childhood ADHD anyone?), and take that money to try addressing things that, you know, actually cause accidents and fatalities…

  11. NEVER, EVER provide your SS number to a medical office. EVER. It’s not required by law. Medical offices want your SS for all of the above mentioned purposes.

  12. It’s obvious not very much thought was put into this issue before some of these comments were posted. Nor has the most absolute of commenters who are critical of the FAA’s actions ever been involved in an aircraft accident let alone been part of investigating one. And that’s great for you. But the reality is that for a portion of GA loss of control and CFIT accidents, evidence of prescription narcotics both in the wreckage and through tissue testing are findings of evidence. Even more common is evidence of alcohol consumption. Both container and tissue findings. People like to complain that the FAA is too reactionary of an institution and yet those same people accuse the agency of overreach – when it affects them personally – for trying to be proactive based on preliminary testing and data. It’s a no win. Unless of course you’re alive to talk about it.

  13. I read this statement

    ” we have been proactively reviewing certain VA disability benefits paid to commercial pilots based on conditions that may be disqualifying if true,””

    and what is compelling is that last part ‘that may be disqualifying if true’.

    So all you upset at the FAA, you are okay with people lying on applications, to basically cheat a system? You’d not mind if I just “fudged” my hours so I could get that right seat, hell, I’m a good pilot! Why bother with checks, with standards, why bother with check rides and medicals, because hell, my pappy flew blind and never had a problem…

    That’s what y’all sound like.

    60 pilots, out of a very large set of pilots and most not in any issue but paperwork. 60 cheated a system and got caught; what do I read…”good job boys, sorry ya got caught, better luck next time”.

    before I became a pilot I looked up to those that flew. A few names unknown, but one very famous one, Ernest K Gann who not just inspired, but set a tone and bar on what it meant to be a aviator and a big part of that was Character, maybe not always moral, but certainly ethical because to be a pilot was to take on a greater responsibility that the average Joe or Jane.

    Now, when I read about pilots who cheat a system I only see people who diminish that Character, but what is worse is reading comments from pilots who practically venerate those who cheat. The thing is, when you cheat once and get away with it, next time its easier until the day you do it in the cockpit with lives sitting behind you and you not once think ‘what about them?’

    • I completely agree…so far as this is what the FAA is looking for. The medical asks if you are receiving VA compensation. If you say YES you have to describe the nature of the disability. Many of these have no affect on flying. E.g., you can have 10% disability for hearing loss, but you can still pass the Fist Class Medical hearing screening. Just be sure to note that on the medical. If you are receiving disability for something that requires ongoing medication, that is serious and needs to be reviewed. Waivers are possible. Lying on the form is unacceptable. Personally, I have found the VA to be much more restrictive about granting disability than OKC in approving waivers. My concern is that sharing information could be used by the VA to deny disability.

  14. As another commenter posted, I just want the FAA medical branch to have to meet the same standard of proof that pilots are asked to meet. When the FAA states that a given condition presents a safety risk, they should have to actually demonstrate (with some EVIDENCE, not just “we believe…”) that the previously-ignored/allowed/unknown condition has led to accidents, that the condition can be reliably detected, and that the screening process will actually make a statistical difference in the accident rate. But right now, all it takes is for someone in OKC to get a visit from the Good Idea Fairy and start thinking “well, maybe this condition could possibly theoretically maybe potentially create a problem” and next thing you know pilots are getting denials, or being forced to go through lots of testing (potentially taking months or years, and thousands or tens of thousands of dollars) to prove they’re “innocent” of something that never required any proof at all to “convict” them of in the first place.