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U.S. Probing Thousands of Pilots Suspected of Withholding Major Health Issues


About 5,000 pilots that are currently licensed to fly in the United States are now being investigated for reportedly falsifying medical records hiding significant health issues that could imperil their ability to fly safely, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The pilots in question are mostly military veterans who have informed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they could fly but did not reveal they were receiving veterans benefits for disabilities that could prevent them from effectively sitting in a pilot's seat.

Veterans Affairs investigators stumbled on the pattern of inconsistencies several years ago, but the FAA did not publicly disclose different parts of the investigation.

Speaking to The Washington Post, FAA spokesman Matthew Lehner said the agency has found around 4,800 pilots "who might have submitted incorrect or false information as part of their medical applications," indicating that roughly half of the cases were closed.

Lehner also told The Post that around 60 pilots who "posed a clear danger to aviation safety" were temporarily barred from the cockpit while their records are currently under review by officials.

According to reports, several pilots under investigation have licenses to fly passenger airlines, including commercial certification.

The Washington Post managed to obtain records that show the FAA's Office of Aerospace Medicine has set $3.6 million to bring onboard medical staffers to conduct additional reviews of certification records for 5,000 pilots who might present "potential risks to the flying public" since last year.

Some veterans have downplayed their health conditions to the FAA, hoping to retain their flying eligibility while also inflating the severity of their health conditions to the Veterans Administration to increase their disability payments.

In a statement to The Post, Lehner said that the agency "used a risk-based approach to identify veterans whose medical conditions posed the greatest risk to safety and instructed them to cease flying while the agency reviews their cases."

"The vast majority of these pilots may continue to operate safely while we complete the reconciliation process," he added.

The VA inspector general's office is investigating some of the 4,800 pilots and will determine whether the Department of Justice should be involved in individual cases regarding potential benefits fraud.

According to officials, for several years, the FAA has known that thousands of pilots might have been flying with significant health issues, but transportation officials pushed back against calls for more substantial background checks for pilots.

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