Take, for instance, item “a” in section 18, “Frequent or severe headaches.” Keep in mind that the front side of the form, the “medical history” section, is the pilot’s responsibility, and the answers are “complete and true” to the best of our knowledge. That suggests that the interpretation of the questions is also left to the applicant in deciding how to respond. Logically, then, one must first determine the reasonable definitions of “frequent” and “severe.” Is three headaches a month frequent, or three a year? How do we determine severity? On a scale of one to 10, which is how your doctor would normally ask you to gauge the pain? Or how often you have to take medications to stop the headache? An occasional sinus or tension headache probably would not fall in the category of a “yes” response, but migraines that occur 4 times a month would be reportable, in the FAA’s opinion.
These are, of course, rhetorical questions, but they demonstrate the angst that some pilots have over responding truthfully to all the questions on the application. The FAA Form 8500-8 (and remember, after Oct. 1, the paper form called the 8500-8 goes away) has long been a target of aviation attorneys as being a document full of rabbit holes and trip wires that could create legal challenges for pilots who inadvertently “under report” medical history. Kathy Yodice, one of the attorneys in AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services, has long argued that questions on the form can be misleading or subject to broad interpretation and unintentional mistakes, even for the most conscientious pilot. She views it as a document full of entrapment pitfalls that the FAA then uses to prosecute airmen who “falsify” the application.
Believe me, we could do a whole seminar just on the medical application, but we’ll cover some of the other trap door items next time.
Your aviation medical examiner is usually a good resource to discuss the application with prior to submitting it to the FAA. Really, though, you are the only one who can choose “yes” or “no,” so give it some thought and if the answer is going to be a yes for the first time, provide your AME with some records from your doctor to support the affirmative response. You can certainly give us a call in the Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672) if you still have questions.
To learn more about the program or to enroll, visit the Pilot Protection Services website.
Since we will soon be completing our medical applications online with the mandatory utilization of the FAA’s MedXpress, I would like to spend some time on individual items on the medical history part of the application. We often get calls about just what needs to be reported or not.