A few weeks ago a friend of mine named Matt* reached out to me for help with his upcoming First Class medical. Matt and I flew T-45Cs together in Pensacola a few years ago teaching future Super Hornet and Growler Weapons Systems Officers. He was on staff and I was a guest instructor while working at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute.
Most former military pilots have VA disabilities
Matt is now retired from the Navy. Before he retired he got a First Class medical from a local aviation medical examiner and was hired by a part 121 carrier. That was his first experience with the FAA medical process using MedXPress. Between that initial FAA medical certificate and his upcoming exam he had finalized his Veteran’s Affairs medical review process. He was found to have some service connected disability involving a variety of things from his 20+ years of military service. Having previously done a MedXPress flight physical he knew there was a question asking about medical disability benefits and he was concerned how that might affect his ability to get a new First Class FAA medical certificate.
I told him that since he was able to maintain his Navy flying clearance, which is significantly more strict than the FAA medical certification, I didn’t think there would be a problem. I explained that the FAA wasn’t looking to ground people unless it was a major issue. With that in mind I asked him to provide a list of all the conditions for which the VA gave him disability.
Musculoskeletal pain is common
His list included some radiculopathy, spine degenerative disk disease, tendinitis, arthritis, history of ankle fracture, and tinnitus. Now that I had some details we discussed how to approach the upcoming flight physical. I explained that it is best to put everything down and have it all documented that it is a service connected disability, but either the AME, or a specialist ahead of the flight physical, document no functional disability to perform the duties of flight. Basically, go ahead and answer “yes” to medical disability, but be prepared to explain, which is what we were going to discuss next.
It seemed like his most serious problem, the radicular symptoms, was what had him concerned. He sent over past exams from doctors, MRI reports and the VA paperwork for me to review. We talked at length about his symptoms, when they occurred, how bad they were, etc., It really seemed that his symptoms were mostly associated with high G flying, something he was no longer going to be doing. We discussed what questions the AME would likely ask and how he could honestly discuss how it presented during high G maneuvering, but that he had no issues outside of those flight regimes.
FAA medical standard are more lenient than the military’s
A local AME has a lot of leeway to determine if a condition is likely to affect flying or not. As long as Matt could reasonably explain the situation he would likely be fine. I explained that if I were performing the exam I might tailor the physical exam portion of the flight physical to check for issues associated with his disability ratings. If no functional issues were found on the exam, then there shouldn’t be any concern while flying.
Ideally the AME can handle that and Matt wouldn’t have any issues. I did tell him that if he received a deferral anyway, given the information I already had, it wouldn’t take us at Wingman Med long to submit a package to the FAA on his behalf to cut the deferral time down.
I checked in with Matt just last week. He had already done his most recent flight physical and said it went exactly as I described and he had no issues with his First Class FAA medical certificate.
Since this article was first published the FAA is asking for AMEs to collect and submit a veteran’s VA rating decision letter to confirm all disabilities. Make sure you list them all!
* Name changed for anonymity