Neary 5,000 pilots under probe for allegedly hiding critical medical information, all of them US veterans

Thousands of pilots are under investigation amidst mounting concerns over undisclosed medical conditions that could leave them grounded.

The records of nearly 5,000 pilots are receiving close scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after the agency became aware of irregularities that, in some instances, could amount to falsified records. Details on the investigation were reported by The Washington Post which said that pilots being looked at are military veterans.

According to the newspaper, the discrepancies were first discovered over two years ago by Veterans Affairs (VA) investigators and the FAA had kept the probe undisclosed to the public after learning many pilots were receiving disability benefits from their time in the service. Of the roughly 4,800 pilots investigated thus far, half of the cases were reported closed.

In addressing the matter to the Post, FAA spokesman Matthew Lehner disclosed that of the pilots believed to have falsified or submitted incorrect medical information to maintain their licenses, 60 pilots “posed a clear danger to aviation safety” and were prohibited from flying while under review.

Lehner noted that the majority “may continue to operate safely while we complete the reconciliation process,” but former Army pilot Rich Mangini, 52, himself grounded over medical reasons, decried the investigation as “harassment” of veterans.

“If they’re going to shine a light on veterans, they need to shine a light everywhere,” he said. Mangini became aware that he was under review after his VA disability benefits for sleep apnea were found to be undisclosed from his FAA records.

While he argued he was not aware that the specifics of his condition had to be disclosed, he went on to tell the Post, “I know of a lot of pilots who have told me about [medical conditions] they aren’t telling the FAA about. What they’re doing to veterans? That’s the definition of harassment.”

Meanwhile, as the government agency looked into the established medical records of pilots, concerns over the unknown had led to reduced standards for “normal heart function.”

As previously reported, Reuters said in February that the FAA had “broadened a standard for normal heart function in pilots because medical evidence showed no symptoms or additional health risk up to the raised threshold.”

That change came as the COVID shot, mandated for pilots, had been linked to detrimental heart conditions among other adverse reactions, though it had not been expressly connected.

Out of the pilots being investigated, roughly 600 were licensed for passenger aircraft while the others held commercial licenses permitting them to fly for cargo firms and others, a U.S. official had indicated to the Post.

Included in the agency’s findings were discoveries that some of their own contracted physicians had informed pilots on concealing medical conditions. As of last year, $3.6 million was allotted to the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine to hire necessary “medical experts and other staff members” to review the medical records of the pilots.

In some instances, there is the potential for the Justice Department’s involvement should an instance of benefits fraud be alleged. Still, the Post noted that the FAA has long turned a blind-eye to undisclosed conditions stating they’ve “known for two decades that tens of thousands of pilots are probably flying with serious undisclosed medical conditions, based on past investigations and audits, and experts who have testified before Congress.”

Kevin Haggerty

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