About a year and a half ago I moved into an apartment, where pets are not permitted. In order to be able to bring my pet with me, I applied online and obtained an "Emotional Support Animal" letter that in effect, states that my mental health is such that I am unable to live without the animal. This obliged the landlord to permit me to bring the cat with me.

The pet did provide with me emotional support during a difficult time in my life but in retrospect having it declared an emotional support animal was probably not the correct treatment but I couldn't get the building to accept me any other way. Now I'm concerned that this letter is going to be my downfall. I've never been treated or medicated for anxiety or depression, never actually met or spoke to the therapist that issued the letter. I know I have to declare mental health treatment on my medxpress form before my AME... What should I do about this ESA letter?

If this letter keeps me from flying I may never forgive myself. I figure my best bet is to call AOPA and speak to someone in their Medical department and to schedule a consultation with an AME. I would appreciate any advice.

  • $\begingroup$ This question seems to be about pets, declarations of mental health and truthfulness in declaring. Tag medical yes, but where is the relevance specifically for a PPL medical. Voted to close. $\endgroup$
    – Koyovis
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is what happens when you don't think things through... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ The FAA hates liars. This is a stone cold fact. You're not is a good position here and if this underhanded nonsense ever came to light in an investigation, any goodwill the feds may have shown you will be out the window. You may become a commercial pilot someday but, whatever you do, DON'T F*** UP. The feds will roast you. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Commented Jun 23, 2019 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Shannon The advice here to seek expert legal opinion is undoubtedly good. Needing "emotional support" is not necessarily mentally unhealthy at all. What you can learn as a pilot is that when you committed to that apartment, you put yourself in that situation. The "chain of disaster" started there. It may have been best to divert to another apartment. Think ahead. Relate what you learned from it. It might turn out ok. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 16:22

3 Answers 3


This answer is inspired by best-practices in dealing with immigration officers.

I shall not dance around your feelings. You picked the right industry to tell that lie, because the airline industry in particular is extremely familiar with fraudulent "support animals" - people slapping a vest on Fido to sneak them where pets do not belong. The airlines have struggled with this and its consequences, and the FAA is certainly well aware of it.

Simply Tell The Truth about your mental health. Which is to say, tell the truth now.

But you can't tell the truth if you don't know what is is. At extremes, stating a fact you don't know is lying, because you imply that you know it.

The form asks if you were diagnosed with a mental disorder. Note those words.

The origin of the question on the matter is the "doctor"'s letter. Review it. If it plainly claims "diagnosis" and "mental disorder", then that is that: you must tick "yes". However if it is ambiguous on the point, then you don't know -- you should ask the "doctor" for clarification. I would write them and say you are applying for an ATP license, and ask them a) Did you diagnose me? If so was the diagnosis of a mental disorder in the meaning of this form (attached)?

And the doctor will write you back and state definitively a) whether it was a diagnosis and b) whether it was of a mental disorder or other reportable thing on that form. She will surely give you the most helpful answer possible within her medical ethics. You may rely on that because she is a licensed professional. There may be an ethical issue there, but that's between her and her medical board: not your problem.

"Ah, but she can't recant the diagnosis since she's not a bona-fide doctor!" Well then, she also was incapable of issuing a diagnosis, so you were not diagnosed after all.

If FAA asks about the contradiction between your FAA claim and your support animal letter, show them this second letter. Of course they will suspect your goal was to cheat your landlord, but that does not violate any FAA regulations (except perhaps the "morals" rule, but therein, they are concerned about serious arcs of behavior that indicate disrespect for the duties of pilot, e.g. lying to FAA about mental health, not lying to landlord about a cat).

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 9:40

Problem is you've made a legal declaration (via that web site) that you have an emotional condition. Legal enough to force a landlord to apply the exception.

Your choice is to check the box on the medical questionnaire about "Mental disorders of any sort" yes, and then work your way through the system getting evaluated as no longer having a problem, or maybe convincing an AME that the original lie over a cat was no big deal and getting him/her to go along and certify you as "recovered".

Or check no and hope nobody finds out. You can check no and it's likely no one will be the wiser, unless something happens in future like an accident that results in an investigation and that's when they will start digging into that kind of stuff. And the penalty for making a false declaration is up to a quarter mil fine and 5 years, as you can see on the lower left of Page 4 of the form. So you'll have to carry that baggage along with you over your career if you go with no.

Anyway, I would speak to a lawyer that handles aviation medical issues and follow his/her advice. I certainly wouldn't proceed based on advice from anonymous nobodies like me and others on ASE.

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    $\begingroup$ @Harper When one signs the Med Xpress form, you give the FAA the right to get any medical records they seek. They don't often do that, but if they do, the statement about needing an ESA may well be seen as being in tension with other answers given in the FAA form, and "oh, yeah, I just lied about needing the ESA" may not be nearly adequate to resolve things. "Oh, okay, we'll ignore the statement you want us to ignore, and believe the statement you want us to believe..." isn't how the Feds operate! $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is the only correct one. Consulting with an AME (and an attorney, AOPA or otherwise) is an excellent idea. What an AME or attorney tells you carries actual weight. Anything we can tell you here, either "don't worry" or "you're done", isn't worth the paper it (isn't even) printed on. Something this important is worth getting a real professional's advice on, BEFORE you submit a MED X PRESS form. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper Unless an AME or an attorney is the one giving that advice, the OP would be ill-advised to make a potentially career-ending bet on it. If that is what the paid professional recommends, great, go with it. But until then, don't base a career on what somebody on the internet said. The OP needs to get actual professional advice on this. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Harper and on what planet are you going to get a doctor to say they signed off on a fraudulent diagnosis? In any case she must talk to an aviation lawyer about this first. Nobody else. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ Look, you guys are being intentionally obtuse, and it's rude. You are pre-judging that this "doctor" diagnosed and that they declared mental disorder. That is not in evidence. What is in evidence is that this is a cheap tick-the-boxes FHA "get my cat in" letter. As far as your advice, sure on the lawyer, but ticking that box before talking to both the lawyer and the "doctor" is a big mistake. I don't understand why the extremism and harshness. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 21:12

So there are a few ways to handle this, and I think its important to be frank about the fact that the letter is fraudulent (by your own admission) and you have no issues that actually require an emotional support animal. Depending on how you look at that I would say that you have never had any mental health treatment since the letter was untrue (from a diagnostic standpoint) to begin with.

The FAA covers the various paths for mental health issues on this page but you have no issues to begin with so again you don't really need to worry.

Furthermore the FAA does not go through or even demand to see medical records when you get your medical cert. As such if you did not report the letter they would not initially know of the incident as they do not go through your records. Generally the FAA knows only what you tell them initially so again, if you don't have an actual medical issue (which you don't) then by one way of reason it would not be incorrect to put no.

As others have mentioned if something were to happen they could go through your records and this could all come to light. It may be wise to have the letter/diagnosis officially redacted or changed. One of the nice things about the medical community is that you can always get a second opinion and a third, fourth and fifth... If you are really concerned having another doctor state that this is a non issue for you may help your case should you check yes.

  • $\begingroup$ "They'll never know" may well be how things play out, but John K is right about the risks one takes by relying on that. If things do unravel, and one gets caught having lied to the FAA on every medical form submitted, the situation can get bad in a hurry. DV'd because I think John K offers the much wiser answer. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ I agree and may re-word, as the intention was, it does not appear as though they have grounds to dig into your records (unless something happens) and i still belive that because there is no actual underlying medical issue its not really lying. I guess it comes down a cascading lie situation. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ That's why you have to be very careful about what the medical form actually says, juxtaposed against what the "doctor" actually said. Easy enough to third-party that; ask the "doctor" to clarify whether s/he meant you had a -whatever the form asks - did you diagnose me with a mental disorder? If the "doctor" replies that her earlier statement does not constitute a "diagnosis" or "mental disorder", you have properly relied on counsel of a professional, and any wrongdoing isn't yours. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 19:49

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