New groundbreaking mental health policy for USAF aircrew

The US Air Force has revised its mental health policy to allow aviators more flexibility and earlier access to treatment without compromising their flight status.

This update, effective immediately, allows aircrew to seek treatment and take a 60-day break from flying duties without further administrative burdens unlike the previous guidelines.

The new initiative emanates from Gen Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), and is aimed at reducing stigma and encouraging mental health care among aircrew. “If you want to look at a pilot with post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re looking at one right now,” said Minihan to his command teams during the AMC Spring 2024 Phoenix Rally. His initiative, which started a few years ago, led to the formation of the AMC Warrior Mental Health working group, which focuses on creating pathways for mental health support and on updating relevant regulations.

US Air Force aircrew are now able to seek treatment for mental health issues and a break from flying duties without damaging career effects.
US Air Force aircrew are now able to seek treatment for mental health issues and a break from flying duties without damaging career effects. USAF/Tech Sgt Jason Robertson

Under the new guidelines, USAF aviators can now seek treatment and return to flying within 60 days of starting treatment (if deemed fit), bypassing the previously lengthy waiver process, which grounded a pilot indefinitely and could have damaging career effects. This change is expected to encourage earlier treatment for conditions, such as stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which had previously required immediate grounding upon diagnosis.

“The goal is and has always been to ensure members have prompt access to appropriate care and promote the safety of flight,” said Col Richard Kipp, Medical Standards Program Chief at the Air Force Medical Service.

Maj Jane Marlow, a C-130J pilot and lead of the Warrior Mental Health working group, highlighted the personal impact of the previous policy. “I delayed seeking care until I was in a non-flying assignment because I knew I would be grounded indefinitely,” she said. The updated guidance, she added, allows aviators to seek necessary care without fearing extended periods off duty.

Gen Minihan emphasised the importance of this new policy stating: “This affects me and, if it affects me, it affects someone in your unit – they have it, haven’t sought help for it, and are suffering in silence.”