Flying has always been a dream for many, and for some, it becomes a reality through careers in commercial aviation or even recreational piloting. However, veterans face unique challenges that can get in the way of this goal due to service-related disabilities. Understanding how VA disabilities can impact your ability to get an FAA Medical Certificate and ultimately pursue a career in aviation is an important step.

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VA Disabilities and Their Influence on Aviation Careers

If you are wondering whether receiving veteran disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could affect your ability to fly, it’s a valid concern. The impact of receiving VA disabilities on the ability to fly a plane varies depending on the severity and nature of your disability. While some disabilities may not pose any real threat, others could present significant obstacles to certain aviation roles, and some may even disqualify a person completely.

Understanding FAA Medical Exam Requirements

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees the medical certification of pilots in the United States, including those aspiring to become commercial pilots. This certification is a crucial step since it confirms a pilot’s mental and physical fitness that are necessary for safe flying.

Who Needs an FAA Medical Certificate

Based on the information provided by the FAA, if you are considering the following careers, you will need to hold a medical certificate:

Pilots Need a Medical Certificate

  • Student Pilots (operating an aircraft in solo flight)
  • Recreational Pilots
  • Private Pilots
  • Commercial Pilots
  • Airline Transport Pilots

Flight Engineers Need a Medical Certificate

  • Flight engineers are required to have a medical certificate when they are serving as required flight crew members.

Flight Navigators Need a Medical Certificate

  • Flight navigators are required to have a medical certificate when they are serving as a required flight crewmember

Who Does Not Need an FAA Medical Certificate

Sport Pilots Do Not Need a Medical Certificate

  • Sports pilots may use a valid U.S. driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate under specific conditions and restrictions.

Flight Instructors Do Not Need a Medical Certificate

  • Flight instructors do not need a medical certificate when performing the duties of a flight instructor while not acting as a pilot in command or as a required pilot flight crew member.

Glider and Free Balloon Pilots Do Not Need a Medical Certificate

  • Glider and Free Balloon pilots are not required to hold a medical certificate to operate a glider or free balloon.

Do I Need an FAA Medical Certificate to be an Air Traffic Controller?

Air Traffic Controllers need medical clearance in addition to the FAA medical certificate required for pilots because of the unique duties and responsibilities of their role.

The only people who do not need a medical certificate to work as an air traffic control tower operator are people employed by the FAA and those serving in the military or the Coast Guard.

Federal Aviation Administration website - FAA medical clearance for veterans - bartlett legal group

Disqualifying Conditions for FAA Medical Certification

The FAA maintains a list of medical conditions that could disqualify an individual from obtaining or maintaining a pilot’s license. These medical conditions include:

  • Heart Conditions: Significant heart conditions such as myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease that has been treated or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant, and heart replacement or heart transplantation.
  • Neurological Disorders: Conditions such as epilepsy, disturbances of consciousness without satisfactory explanation of cause, or transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory explanation of cause.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Certain mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, or personality disorder that are severe enough to have repeatedly manifested themselves by overt acts.
  • Substance Dependence or Abuse: Current clinical diagnosis of substance dependence or substance abuse.
  • Miscellaneous Conditions: Conditions such as insulin-dependent diabetes, vertigo, permanent cardiac pacemaker, certain physical conditions, and many other unique situations. 

Special Issuance Medical Certificates

It’s important to note that having a VA disability does not automatically disqualify someone from becoming a pilot. The FAA may grant something called a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate on a case-by-case basis. These certificates allow individuals with certain medical conditions to fly under specific conditions or limitations, ensuring safety while enabling veterans to pursue aviation careers.

Navigating FAA Medical Exam Requirements with VA Disabilities

Veterans interested in a career in aviation should understand the requirements of the FAA medical exam. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect during the exam and how VA disabilities play a role:

  1. Initial Examination: Veterans must undergo a comprehensive evaluation that assesses both physical and mental health through MedXPress.
  2. Review of VA Disabilities: Any existing VA disabilities will be examined in context with FAA standards to determine potential impacts on flying capabilities.
  3. Case-by-Case Evaluation: The FAA evaluates each case individually, considering the severity of the disability and current health status.
  4. Possible Adjustments and Waivers: Depending on the disability, adjustments or waivers may be granted, allowing veterans to fly with certain limitations.

Conclusion: VA Disabilities and Flying Careers

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Attorney Rebecca Bartlett, Veteran Claims Lawyer

While VA disabilities can present challenges for veterans aspiring to fly, these challenges do not necessarily preclude individuals from pursuing careers in aviation. A veteran can have a 100% disability rating with the VA and still be cleared by an FAA Medical Examination. With the right guidance, support, and advocacy, veterans can overcome these obstacles and realize their dreams of flying. Speaking with a knowledgeable advocate can provide further insights and assistance in navigating what can be a complex process.

Veterans considering a career in aviation should not be discouraged by their disabilities. Instead, they should explore all available options and seek professional advice to understand the pathways to achieving their flying ambitions. For more information, you can contact Bartlett Legal Group by scheduling an appointment or calling us at (850) 332-6434.

Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or medical advice. Individuals with VA disabilities considering pursuing a career in aviation should consult with qualified professionals for personalized guidance tailored to their specific circumstances.