Medical application: Medical disability benefits?

May 7, 2013

Warren Silberman

Warren Silberman

  • Former Manager, FAA Aerospace Medical Certification 
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine 
  • Expert in Aerospace/Preventive Medicine 
  • Pilot since 1986

Question 18.y. in the FAA medical application form asks if the applicant has ever had medical disability benefits. In an ultra-short summary, this question came out of a bunch of legal cases that originated in California when the U.S. attorneys came up with the idea to match the Social Security database with the FAA's Medical Certification electronic system, the Document, Imaging, and Workflow System (also known by the acronym DIWS). They discovered that some airmen had been receiving disability payments by the Social Security Administration but had not revealed this information on their FAA medical form. This led to a series of legal actions, which are still going on to this day.

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We all should know that completion of the FAA 8500-8 or Medical History and Physical Form is an “honor system.” As airmen, we should be telling the truth each time we complete the form. The FAA can (and does) prosecute airmen for falsifying or providing false information. I have personally testified at numerous hearings where this was the accusation. The airman can end up with revocation of all of his or her certificates and ratings if the person is found culpable.

If you are completing your medical application on MedXPress and are worried that the answer to a question will result in a denial of your medical, contact AOPA. This is why AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services is there for the benefit of the membership.

How does the FAA want you to respond to this question and what does it want your AME to do if you had a positive response? There are several kinds of disability payment programs out there. If you are receiving compensation for a disability, the FAA wants you to check “yes” to the question and in the explanation portion inform the agency what specifically the disability is. You should be prepared to provide the medical documentation on your disability. The AME then should get the details of the medical problem, and if it is disqualifying, treat the condition just like any other condition that an airman may present with. Those of you that are familiar with some types of disability know that one can obtain disability benefits for medical problems that may be somewhat limiting but will not affect one's capability to fly an aircraft. This is especially true of retiring military and the veterans’ benefit system.

So be truthful when responding to question 18.y. and obtain the proper documentation to show your AME. And if you have any concerns, contact AOPA first.

For more expert advice and professional assistance with protecting your pilot and medical certificates all year round, visit AOPA Pilot Protection Services online.

Dr. Warren Silberman, D.O., MPH is the former manager of FAA Aerospace Medical Certification and a doctor of osteopathic medicine. A pilot since 1986, he is recognized nationally as an expert in aerospace/preventative medicine, and is a regular writer for AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services.