Long Time Lurker with ADD Success Story

Christopher M Bauer

Filing Flight Plan
Nov 4, 2020
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I've spent considerable amount of time in the medical portion of this forum and have read about a lot of people's struggles with certification. Specifically, the individuals with an ADD/ADHD diagnosis and the processes that people have gone through with varying results. I thought I would share my story, one with a happy ending to show that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.

By way of background, I am a recreational pilot that has fantasies of possibly flying for a living in one capacity of another. Like a lot of people; life, finances, and work have interfered with obtaining ratings and certificates. I started training for my PPL while on active duty with the Air Force in 2003. I was enlisted and married with children, so even with the reduced rate the Aero Club on base provided, I struggled to afford it. After my first deployment interrupted training I didn't start again till 2015. I had gotten out of the Air Force and was working for a Federal LE agency stationed in New Orleans. I knocked out a couple of lessons before work obligations again put a halt to my training.

A year or two later I discovered that my agency utilized some small aircraft for various purposes and was inspired to start again. I decided I was going to obtain my PPL and attempt to get my employer to finance my Instrument and Commercial. To continue training (at this point I only had 10-15 hours and had not soloed yet) I was told I would need to obtain at least a 3rd Class Medical. And so the saga begins....

I went online and filled out the medexpress form and followed that up with the required visit to the AME. The AME examined me, said "Great, see my nurse she will have your certificate for you out front." Easy. The next words out of the AME's mouth were "Hey, whats this about you taking Adderall?" I explained that I was diagnosed with ADD or ADHD as a child and took medication for that. In my teenage years I quit taking it. I obviously didn't take it during my enlistment as, at the time, at least, the Air Force did not approve of it. When I started my career with the agency I was working for at the time, they put me on a squad that investigated mostly white collar crime. Think complex financial crime, health care fraud, embezzlement, etc. Not exactly the most thrilling work. During a routine physical, I complained to my GP about my boredom at work and the lack of motivation and focus I was struggling with. She suggested I take adderall for those times I truly struggled. After checking with my employer as to whether that was even allowed (it is), I stupidly started taking adderall.

And it was....great.
Whether you have ADD or not, adderall, or any other stimulant medication will absolutely help you with motivation and focus. Ask anybody cramming for an exam, if you doubt that.

When filling out my medexpress form, I obviously put that medication down. It did not even cross my mind that it would be a problem. I am NOT suggesting that I wouldn't have put it down if I knew. I will get to that in a minute.

The AME told me that I would be deferred and the FAA would follow up with me. He even suggested that there might be a waiver for me if I was going to fly for my agency and to explore that option. There isn't btw. That is when I started educating myself about Medical Certification and all that entails. This forum was a huge source of information.

Upon consultation with my GP, I discontinued the use of adderall. That wasn't fun, but I'll save that story for someone who really wants to hear it. The FAA sent the letter we all are familiar with requesting more information, medical records, etc. I was able to submit documentation and a letter from my GP stating why I took it, and more importantly, that I was no longer taking it. I foolishly (despite reading these forums) thought that might be it. I was wrong.

They sent me another letter outlining the battery of tests that I would be required to submit to in order to be considered for a medical. I wont go into detail, but if this is the first post you are reading about FAA medicals and ADD, just do a search on "Neurocognitive Evaluation." Long story short: Expensive, Expensive, Time Consuming, Excruciating, and Expensive.

I passed. I actually passed with scores that were much higher than required. They have a system where they compare your scores to "pilot norms" and can even compare them to specific types of pilots, the types of aircraft they fly, and even what companies they fly for. I was average or above average for the normative guidelines for pilots flying long haul. For Delta. Please do not start a flame war about whose pilots are the best...I only mentioned that, because apparently Delta pilots have the highest scores on this particular battery of tests. This is also not to brag about me...I am still only a PPL and will never fly for a major airline. I bring this up to illustrate that I passed, and not by a small margin.

Seven months later, after many calls about the status, and having to resend the results to the FAA because they could not find it...I received a Special Issuance 3rd Class that was set to expire exactly 189 days after I received it. And received instructions that in order to have the Special Issuance renewed, I would have to submit an updated battery of tests, and provide a statement from my current CFI about how ADD affected my performance.

By this time, I had discovered the joys of Basic Med. I had obtained my PPL and was flying with that. I had also relocated and changed employers. My new employer also has an aviation wing (a very robust aviation program that includes not only turbo props, but also rotorcraft, YAY!) and I was very interested in becoming a part of that.

Well, you cant do that with Basic Med. I also didn't want, and couldn't afford to continue to mess with the special issuance process every time I needed a medical. I wanted/needed an Unrestricted 2nd Class. I needed help.

There are several programs/individuals/organizations out there that specialize in the FAA Medical Cert process. I believe Dr. Bruce on this forum is one such person. There is also AOPA's Pilot Protection Service, Aviation Medicine Advisory Service and Pilot Medical Services. I cant and won't speak as to the which the best one for you might be, you will have to research each and decide for yourself. I will also not even say which one I used, as I do not want this post to be an advertisement for one, or insinuate one is better than another. I used one of them.

They recommended I follow the FAA's request for another battery of tests, a statement from my CFI, and add a letter of my own requesting that I be removed from the Special Issuance program and receive an unrestricted cert. Besides knowing exactly what the FAA is looking for, how to provide it and how to structure and word it to satisfy the FAA, the other major benefit most of the services I mentioned above is that they have the ability to interface directly with a person in the medical certification branch, to ensure you don't get lost in the shuffle. I believe this is invaluable and worth the additional cost. Having an advocate who fully understands the process, and who can talk to the FAA on your behalf is a value that is hard to properly quantify. It does not remove the requirement for you to meet the standards the FAA has put out there, but it does help make sure whatever you are doing, shows the FAA that you do, in fact, meet their requirements.

I underwent another neurocognitive evaluation. This time from a different provider. The service worked with the provider to make sure that everything that needed to be said in the narrative that accompanies the raw data was there.

I sheepishly asked my CFI for a letter of recommendation, which he provided. It was short, sweet and to the point. It started off with "Until he asked me to write this letter, I had no idea xxx had ADD/ADHD." and went on to hit the points about how he believed I was a safe and attentive pilot and had no issues that would affect the safe operation of aircraft.

All of this was pushed through the FAA by the service I hired. It still took a couple months, but I received a letter stating that I no longer required a special issuance. I have since gone on and gotten a 2nd class and have started on my instrument rating. Hopefully one day, I will be flying for more than just fun. Until then, I wanted to provide this story of my journey in the hopes that it will encourage someone else in the process to keep fighting for what you love.


I am not suggesting anyone lie. This is the government you are dealing with and honesty is the best policy. How would this have changed things for me? It might not have. But some things to consider are:

1. I put down that I was diagnosed with ADD as a child. Was I? I can not locate (nor can my parents) any medical records that say as much. I was never evaluated by a psychologist/psychiatrist. My family GP (back in the 80's or 90's) said, "Oh, he gets distracted in math class? Try this ritalin. It's great for that kind of thing." Ask any doctor whether that is a legit diagnosis. It is not, as proved by the years I was off any medication, as well as my current unmedicated status.

2. The more recent prescription for adderall was written by my GP, who, incidentally, is not a psychologist/psychiatrist. It is possible the only thing I suffered from is Occupational ADD. Which is not a diagnoses in the DSM V. I believe it is more colloquially referred to as having a boring ass job.

It is possible, after speaking to an AME, I would have discontinued the medication for an appropriate and time and not listed ADD as a previous diagnosis. I put it down on the form because I THOUGHT I might have been diagnosed.

Again, I don't know what I would have done, and I am certainly not recommending any other course of action than to speak to a professional who can offer advice before committing something to an electronic form that can never be undone.

I look forward to the comments of anyone who managed to get to the end of this longer than intended post. If you are reading this far, it may be all the proof you need to show that you don't in fact, have ADD.
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First, congrats on getting the unrestricted medical.

Second, the concern of doctors "throwing pills at people" rather than doing a good root-cause diagnosis is not uncommon, especially in today's world where payers don't pay well and there's a rush to move on to the next patient. You really need to take charge of your own health and choose providers that understand the concern. Read the forum and you'll see stories of diagnosis codes being entered to make sure the doctor gets paid.
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