Corina Notyce, DCoE Public Affairs on August 20, 2013
Update: As one of the most read DCoE blogs, we've recently published an update, “Worried about Security Question 21? These Tips Can Help.”
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Casey Jones
Many jobs in the military and government require a security clearance. Maybe you, or someone you know or someone they know has a clearance — confidential, secret or top secret — or will apply for a national security position in the future, requiring answers to Standard Form 86 “Questionnaire for National Security Positions.” The U.S. government uses the information from this form to conduct background checks and evaluations of those individuals under consideration for a national security position and for those requiring access to classified information. As you complete the form, you’ll need to answer questions about your personal life, including whether you’ve had psychological counseling — Question 21.
Seeking psychological health counseling or treatment alone won’t automatically impact your ability to obtain or maintain a security clearance, however, Question 21 still discourages some people from applying for certain jobs or from seeking help. The Real Warriors Campaign recently published an article, “Security Clearances and Psychological Health Care,” to help you answer questions about your psychological and emotional health history and to debunk myths surrounding Question 21 of the security clearance form. Here are some things to consider before you fill out the form.
Above all, be honest. Question 21 asks if you have received counseling from a health care professional for an emotional or psychological health concern in the past seven years. There may be some psychological health concerns that can impair the ability to safeguard classified information and hold a clearance. Still, you may be uncertain about whether the counseling you received should be reported. So, how should you respond? It depends on the type of counseling you received.
- Respond “No” if the psychological health counseling was strictly related to:
- Grief, marital or family concerns
- Adjustments from service in a combat zone
- Being a victim of sexual assault
- Respond “Yes” for any other counseling for an emotional or psychological health concern taking place in the past seven years, along with additional information related to care or treatment received
Further, the psychological health care counseling you report is protected by privacy rights. Therefore, when a credentialed personnel security investigator contacts your psychological health care provider, they must first ask if you’re coping with a psychological health concern that could impair your judgment, reliability or ability to safeguard classified information. If your provider answers “no,” then no further questions are authorized. If you suspect a privacy violation, report it to the Defense Department Inspector General hotline at 800-424-9098.
Choosing not to seek care can increase your likelihood of developing a more serious psychological health concern that can make it harder for you to perform the sensitive duties that require a clearance. Reaching out for help is a sign of strength because you recognize a problem exists and are willing to take steps toward resolving it. In fact, the decision to seek psychological health counseling and treatment can be a positive factor in the security clearance process. An example is Staff Sgt. Josh Hopper, who sought treatment to cope with psychological health concerns after two tours in Iraq. Since seeking care, he successfully maintains a security clearance and continues to excel in his military career. Hopper’s story and others are featured on the Real Warriors website.
Find more helpful information surrounding care and clearances in this article and resources below:
If you or someone you know could benefit from psychological health care or support, contact the DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020 to connect to resources and services in your area, or Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 to speak immediately with a counselor.