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Baker urges FAA amnesty for veterans

Medical certificate application confusion 'systemic'

With a growing number of pilots caught up in an ongoing FAA investigation, AOPA President Mark Baker urged acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen to adopt the same amnesty-first approach to medical certificate application errors by veterans that the agency used successfully with similar systemic problems in the past.

AOPA President Mark Baker, pictured here addressing a Pilot Town Hall at the Sun 'n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida, March 29, wrote the following day to acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen seeking amnesty for the many veterans caught up in an ongoing FAA investigation of medical certificate application accuracy. Photo by David Tulis.

Baker wrote to the acting FAA chief March 30 seeking amnesty for thousands of pilots who served their country and are now entangled in an ongoing enforcement effort.

Educating pilots about the byzantine medical certification process has been a priority for years, made more so in recent months as an FAA investigation launched in 2022 has caught a growing number of U.S. military veterans in a bind, with enforcement action ramping up as the year ended. The issue stems from Section 18 of the medical certificate application, which Gary Crump, director of the medical certification section of AOPA's Pilot Information Center, covered in detail in a March 1 article.

Crump noted that the FAA is reviewing records from the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine if pilots have applied for medical certificates without reporting disability benefits they receive from the VA.

"Reporting those benefits doesn’t necessarily mean the FAA is going to reach out to you. It depends on what medical conditions you're receiving benefits for," Crump wrote. "Percentage ratings for relatively minor things such as arthritis, low back pain, tinnitus, or carpal tunnel syndrome are not necessarily going to raise red flags."

AOPA Legal Services Plan attorney Anthony Ison (also on March 1) updated his guidance and insights on the issue, noting that the rate of "red flags" appears to have ramped up. Based in Florida, Ison wrote that the FAA enforcement approach appears to have shifted as the number of pilots found to have received VA disability benefits that they did not report to the FAA grew during the course of the ongoing FAA investigation:

"Unfortunately, the FAA’s disposition of these cases has become erratic. In practice, where two airmen may have the same or substantially similar VA disability benefits and ratings, one airman may receive a Letter of Correction as an initial contact, whereas the other may receive a Letter of Investigation," Ison wrote. "More tragically, in recent days, we have seen more cases be referred for legal enforcement generally seeking revocation of all certificates, whereas similar or like cases may been disposed via Letter of Correction. Curiously, and concerningly, we have also seen Letters of Correction be issued and then later rescinded, without explanation or legitimate rationale."

Baker, in the March 30 letter, asked Nolen to "undertake an enforcement amnesty program to address this issue."

"You know firsthand that the aviation community has many veterans who voluntarily put their life on the line to protect our nation’s freedom, who have sacrificed much and suffered harm while demonstrating their loyalty to country," Baker wrote. "Military veterans are a significant portion of the airman community and bring excellent skills and training to civilian aviation. We are fortunate to have their dedication and service in the civilian aviation community."

Baker continued: "The volume of FAA inquiries to airmen about VA disability benefits is evidence of a systemic problem, one that has led too many pilots to make inadvertent mistakes or misunderstand FAA medical application requirements. Airmen need a clear pathway to correct their FAA medical records, and an understanding of what will happen when they do."

Baker noted that the FAA previously provided amnesty to individuals who corrected medical certificate applications that did not disclose DWI/DUI convictions, under a 1987 policy that was adopted as a final rule in 1990. A similarly successful amnesty followed in 2010 regarding disclosure of antidepressant medication, and related treatment.

Baker urged the FAA to follow the same approach regarding veterans, and to grant amnesty while the medical certificate application itself gets a much-needed overhaul to improve clarity.

"If the medical application is improved and an amnesty program is launched, the FAA, Veterans Administration, and aviation industry can work together to educate veterans to enhance compliance and reduce the opportunity for future misunderstandings," Baker wrote. "Again, military veterans served our country honorably, so let’s do our part to serve them and ensure they remain a cornerstone of our aviation community now and in the future."

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Advocacy, Pilot Regulation, Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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