Since Summer 2022, there has been significant attention given to airmen trying to get a FAA medical certificate with VA disability benefits. As we have written about many times in various forums, the FAA initiated a “special project” whereby the agency started to contact airmen who had not previously reported their receipt of VA disability benefits on previous applications for airman medical certification, Form 8500-8. Specifically, question 18y. on FAA Form 8500-8, or “MedXPress” asks if in your lifetime you have received “medical disability benefits.” Time and time again, our firm is contacted by veteran airmen who believe that their receipt of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) is not a disability benefit, but rather compensation for military service. No matter the rationale, there has been a common misunderstanding by airmen that VA disability benefits do not register as a disability warranting an affirmative response to question 18y.
Contrary to this misconception, the FAA and the VA have consistently held that a history of VA disability benefits, even if the airman is receiving a 0% rating for a condition, warrants a “yes” response to question 18y. and the corresponding underlying condition. For example, if an airman is receiving disability benefits for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), the FAA would expect a “yes” response to question 18y. and question 18m., which inquires regarding the applicant’s history of mental health conditions. As of the time of this article, our firm continues to see cases where the FAA is approaching airmen identified by the “special project” as having not appropriately identified a history of receiving VA disability benefits. These airmen continue to receive “reconciliation letters” and “Letters of Investigation.”
But what about airmen attempting to apply for a FAA medical certificate with VA disability benefits who haven’t been identified by the “special project?” Perhaps you are applying for a medical certificate for the first time since receiving VA disability benefits. Are you at risk for being denied your FAA medical application purely because you receive disability benefits? Not at all. Instead, the FAA will always assess your underlying conditions to identify whether your condition(s) are aeromedically significant or progressive to a point wherein they may pose a risk to aviation safety.
The following tips should be considered when applying for a FAA medical certificate with VA disability benefits:
- Always provide complete, accurate, and truthful responses on your application for FAA medical certification. If you are receiving VA disability benefits, you should identify all condition(s) for which you receive benefits, to include conditions for which you receive a 0% rating. Furthermore, all condition(s) for which you receive benefits and for those condition(s) which have been identified as “not service connected” should be identified at the appropriate questions on the application. This means that there may be redundancy in your answers to Form 8500-8. You will need to report the condition(s) for which you receive benefits at question 18y., but also at the appropriate question corresponding to the condition itself. As referenced above, a benefit for PTSD would be identified at questions 18y. and 18m.
- You should always be consistent with your representations to both the FAA and the VA. If you represent a condition to the FAA as though you do not have that condition or have never had the condition but receive a benefit for that condition from the VA, you could be liable for fraudulent representations to one agency or the other. While you may have a condition which has improved over time, your presentation to the FAA relative to your VA disability conditions should always be approached from a standpoint of aeromedical significance, appropriate mitigation of risk to aviation safety, and level of risk for aeromedically significant, recurrent symptoms.
- If you receive VA disability benefits for traumatic brain injury, PTSD or any mental health conditions, and/or obstructive sleep apnea, you are likely going to need to provide the FAA with more information regarding your status with the condition, as well as your history of symptoms and treatment. Each of these conditions have their own protocol which should be carefully evaluated and prepared prior to engaging an Aviation Medical Examiner (“AME”).
- If you are receiving disability benefits for a CACI condition, make sure to have appropriate documentation prepared prior to your engaging an Aviation Medical Examiner.
- If you are receiving benefits for most musculoskeletal conditions, your Aviation Medical Examiner should be able to issue your certificate, if you do not present with any aeromedically significant impairment to your flexibility, strength, range of motion, or if you have aeromedically significant levels of pain. Use of a disqualifying medication for pain will likely result in a deferral by your AME and ultimate denial of your application by the FAA.
- You should know that by appropriately reporting your VA disability benefits, you may be subject to additional request(s) for information from the FAA, even if your AME issues to you a medical certificate. The FAA has such authority to ask for additional information, such as medical records and current evaluations pursuant to 14 C.F.R. § 67.407. As such, you should ensure that your medical history relevant to condition(s) for which you are not receiving VA disability benefits are also appropriately addressed on your FAA medical application.
- Preparation is key to ensuring that your FAA medical certificate is not deferred or denied if you are receiving VA disability benefits. It is always a good idea to consult with an aviation attorney prior to submitting a medical application when receiving VA disability benefits to ensure that your application is consistent, complete, and supports your eligibility for airman medical certification.
- Learn more about the relationship between VA disability benefits and FAA medical certification on The Pilot Lawyer Podcast, Episode 30 “FAA Medical and VA Benefits Explained with VA Benefits Attorney Derek Debus.”
If you are applying for a FAA medical certificate with VA disability benefits, you must give specific attention to detail. Failing to appropriately report your medical history could result in a catastrophic outcome, with revocation of all certificates and potential criminal liability. Furthermore, if you are not appropriately prepared in advance of applying for a medical application, you could risk a deferral of your application by the AME.
Consider a consultation with a FAA medical defense attorney at The Ison Law Firm before applying for a FAA medical certificate with VA disability benefits. We are happy to evaluate your case and discuss with you a plan for presenting your case to your AME or the FAA. Aviation law is all we do. Nothing else.