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Colorado pilot speaks out on lack of access to mental health treatment: "We literally do not have the ability to see a therapist"

Pilot speak out on lack of access to mental health treatment
Pilot speak out on lack of access to mental health treatment 03:04

An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot's alleged attempt to shut down a plane's engine midflight is shining a renewed spotlight on mental health in aviation. For some industry experts, the pilot's struggles going unnoticed – or even unreported – isn't so surprising.

"We literally do not have the ability to see a therapist, to see a counselor to get mental health treatment, to literally be human," said Josephe LoRusso, a private pilot and director of aviation at Ramos Law.


LoRusso explained the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) mental health policies are outdated – unchanged since the 1980s – and one of the biggest reasons for the growing pilot shortage. He said airline pilots are required by the FAA to fill out a form annually and list the doctors they've seen in the last three years, including therapists. Yet such an admission could get a pilot's wings clipped.

"Let's say a pilot loses a loved one," said LoRusso. "They can't even see a grief counselor because that's reportable on that form, and then they're grounded. So, you've got two options -- you either go get that treatment and lie on a government form, that's essentially defrauding the government, punishable by revocation of certificates, civil penalty, jail time. Or, you just don't get treatment."

CBS News Colorado investigator Kati Weis recently spoke with an Army veteran who had his pilot license application all but turned down by the FAA because he admitted he has PTSD from his time in Afghanistan.

"I feel like I'm being punished for being forthcoming and getting the help that I felt that I needed," said Adam Lemons.


It's that punishment, LoRusso said, that leads many pilots to suffer alone. Despite his years of advocating for policy changes, he doesn't believe that will happen anytime soon.

"It makes no logical sense to have aero-medical regulatory standards that are stuck in the 80s," he said.

Additional CBS News coverage:

The FAA provided this additional comment following our reporting:

Pilots must report certain mental health conditions to their aviation medical examiner (AME) during their regular medical exams. The FAA encourages pilots to seek help if they have a mental-health condition since most, if treated, do not disqualify a pilot from flying. During the last several years, the FAA has invested resources to eliminate the stigma around mental health in the aviation community so pilots seek treatment. This includes:

  • Increasing mental health training for medical examiners
  • Supporting industry-wide research and clinical studies on pilot mental health
  • Hiring additional mental health professionals to expand in-house expertise and to decrease wait times for return-to-fly decisions
  • Completed clinical research and amended policy to decrease the frequency of cognitive testing in pilots using antidepressant medications 

The FAA will revoke a pilot's medical certificate if it becomes aware of significant mental health issues.

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