When Dreams Die
Brian Wittke took his life
on June 14, 2022
This is a difficult post for me to write, but one that must be read. While Delta Air Lines was spending millions to get rid of me, paying a doctor for a false mental health diagnosis, other Delta pilots were killing themselves.
It's difficult for those who are mentally okay to understand why anyone would kill him or herself. The thought as to why a Delta pilot would kill himself is unfathomable. To kill yourself with the prestige of a Delta pilot career with high pay and benefits makes no sense. Unfortunately, when the only option for a person is suicide it's apparent that they think there is no hope, no help, and no way out.
I hold Delta, ALPA, and the FAA, in part, responsible for the multiple deaths of my fellow pilots. In my opinion, Brian's suicide and others may have been prevented. While Brian's death was last June, Delta's most recent pilot suicide was on February 15, 2023. There have been many more suicides that have preceded both of these. Until the families request that I share their stories, I will just assert they are happening. Delta, ALPA, and the FAA are all well aware of these suicides, yet remain silent.
An ALPA Captain Representative told me in the fall of 2022, "I knew this pilot was going to kill himself. He kept calling my office. I knew it was going to happen. Then it did." The suicide he spoke of was not one of those that I knew of because he was a New York representative. There are more than we can imagine, and there is something the industry could do.
Delta had asserted in court that they "had to" put me through a mental health evaluation because of the Germanwings Pilot
who killed himself and a plane load of people on March 24, 2015. Delta believed that I was overly concerned for safety, emotional, and feared I would become the next Germanwings pilot because I had told them that I had a target on my back. Hmmm.
Most interesting is that the FAA administrator at the time, Michael Huerta, had decided in June of 2016, two weeks "before" I was sent to a psychological evaluation, that pilots would not receive mental health evaluations.
Huerta stated, "Psychological tests are ineffective because they reveal a pilot’s mental health for only a moment in time without providing insight into whether the pilot will suffer problems later."
After FAA Administrator Michael Huerta's decision to not perform mental health evaluations, he retired from the FAA and stepped onto Delta's Board of Directors. I have often wondered if this testing requirement had come to fruition, if those pilots who had killed themselves would have received the help they needed. Probably. After I learned of so many pilot suicides, I suspected that Huerta had made the wrong decision. But he did save Delta and other airlines millions.
Mom Annie with Brian
After Delta decided to throw in the towel in my case, Dominic Gates wrote a front page article for the Seattle Times: "Delta ‘weaponized’ mental health rules against a pilot. She fought back"
. Annie Vargas, Brian Wittke's mother, read this article and reached out. One of her sons, Brian, had taken his life just months prior. His mother does not want her son's death to go unnoticed and she needs to ensure that no parent or family member will ever face the pain that she and her family have experienced.
Annie told me that Brian had spent over $50,000 earning a Masters degree at the University of Utah, specifically to get a job with Delta---his dream job. Unfortunately the Delta job was, "Nothing like he thought it would be" and "There was so much disappointment in his life." His marriage was a "struggle", he was "a mess mentally and afraid to get help for fear he would lose the ability to take care of his family". This was not an overnight issue, it was years in the making and could have been addressed at the beginning had he been allowed to speak to a counselor or psychiatrist without FAA notification.
Brian was getting help from a Life Coach because, "he was afraid to see anyone who was a licensed counselor for fear that he would be reported to Delta."
Annie stated, "Everything centered around losing his pilot income. I tried and tried to get him to let Delta know and see what they would do for him and he was adamant he would get grounded and lose his job." Annie also told me, "I truly believe that if he had thought Delta would support him, he would have reached out and asked for help. I was incredulous that he didn't feel comfortable reaching out to Delta."
Unfortunately during the years of Brian's struggle, Delta was weaponizing mental health against me. Of course Brian and others would not believe Delta would help them. Delta also knew of an instructor pilot who put a gun into his mouth on numerous occasions threatening suicide, but Delta refused to do anything. If this information came to light, it would be difficult to continue with their assertions against me in court. Therefore, pilots continued to kill themselves while Delta spent millions asserting they were afraid that I had a mental health issue instead of helping those in need.
The Pilot Contract
On Christmas Eve, 2016, Delta's hired hitman, Dr. David Altman, sent me my disqualifying letter via FedEx. We later learned that Altman and Delta management had determined that I was bipolar in October 2016. Yet, they waited for two months to tell me my career was over. Permanently. A doctor should know better, and I cannot help but to think that Dr. Altman and Delta management were pushing for my suicide by the delayed timing of this letter, and providing it during Christmastime.
What I learned at the time of Delta's abuse of power, utilizing mental health as a weapon against me, was that the Pilot Working Agreement (PWA) categorized someone with a mental health issue as an alcoholic regarding disability. Meaning, that those with mental health issues would be thrown onto the street after 2 years of half-pay, if they did not solve their problem. They would be without disability and without insurance. Of course nobody would come forward.
I returned to flying in 2018, and I made it my mission to get that section in the contract changed. I wrote resolutions, gave speeches at multiple bases, and finally in 2019 two resolutions were unanimously passed by the pilots, one of which was that anyone who has a mental health issue will have disability insurance until date of retirement, not just 2 years. Despite this resolution being passed, ALPA and the company decided to wait until the contract was signed to enact it. That would not be for another 4 years.
Not until March 1 2023, was the Delta/ALPA contract ratified, that now enables pilots to remain on disability until retirement if they have a mental health issue. How many pilots would have made a different decision in their life versus death moment, had this been enacted years ago?
Unfortunately, another resolution I fought for, also approved in 2019, included the mandate that Delta utilize the Mayo Clinic as the Company medical examiner, instead of allowing a provision for them to purchase a doctor with a bought-and-paid disqualifying diagnosis. I was told that change would also be in this contract. It was not.
ALPA did not include that provision, and to date the current contract allows Delta to retain the option to purchase a doctor of their choice, despite, a resolution being unanimously approved in 2019. Delta can still purchase a diagnosis of their choice, and have the ability to force pilots to see a compromised doctor.
Positive Change Has Been Made
I often wonder if the millions Delta spent to give me a false mental health diagnosis and engage in a war of attrition to have me removed, created fear in these pilots to come forward who killed themselves. I'm saddened that Delta chooses to spend millions in marketing and millions more in efforts to keep the flight attendant union off the property, instead of providing support for the mental health of their pilots. Delta even refuses to allow pilots to stay home for a mental health day despite how much sick leave they may have.
YOU ARE MISSED!
Brian had just been awarded a captain position. He had three beautiful children. He had everything to live for. At his funeral many captains stated that he was one of their "favorite" first officers to fly with. Sadly, two days before he took his life, he had reached out to Delta's Pilot Assistance Network (PAN) for help and nobody returned his call. Annie, Brian's mother, later reached out to Delta's CEO/Chairman of the Board, Ed Bastian, regarding Brian's death. Annie believes Ed's response was, "just something to make me go away." I read it and concur with her assumption. He did nothing.
Change Needed for Mental Health
We cannot control where airlines like Delta choose to allocate their resources to increase profit at the sacrifice of humanity, but perhaps we can change the regulatory requirements. Currently pilots fear seeing mental health professionals because of the FAA requirement to report such actions. Many pilots fear seeking marriage counseling for the same reason. Then the problems snowball.
The FAA does not require pilots to report seeing a nutritionist or a personal trainer. Why must pilots report seeing someone for their mental health? Unless an injury or psychosis, a pilot who is fine today will not awaken suicidal tomorrow. If the FAA were to allow our pilots to seek the help they need before it's too late, without fear of job loss, and prior to the need for medication, pilots would seek help before they break.
Please take time to contact the current FAA administrator, Phillip A. Washington, or Pete Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation and perhaps we can create the change we need.
The Weaponization of Mental Health
against me by Delta management may have
prevented Delta pilots from coming forward.
That is something I will have to live with.
I am asking all of you who read this post
to please help me fix this issue
Share this link with everyone you know.
Someone's life might just depend upon it.
Enjoy the Journey!