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News on Security Clearances: Mental Health & Security Clearances

News on Security Clearances:  On April 5, 2013, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper issued new guidance concerning the disclosure of mental health treatment in security clearances applications.  The interim guidance,  issued as part of a press release and later to be added to the text of Standard Form 86 (SF-86) in an upcoming revision, authorizes victims of sexual assault to not disclose that they sought treatment for the psychological effects of the sexual assault.

Question 21.1 on the present version of SF-86 asks applicants for security clearances, "In the last seven (7) years, have you consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or were you hospitalized for such a condition."  Although the instructions for Section 21 on SF-86 assert that "Mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to deny eligibility for access to classified information or for a sensitive position..." (emphasis in original), many applicants for security clearances fear that their mental or emotional health counseling might result in their losing their security clearance and livelihood, in some cases to the point of avoiding medical treatment in the interest of preserving their clearances. 

The instruction for the present Question 21.1 presently state two exceptions which allow applicants to respond "no" if their counseling was not court-ordered, and was either "strictly marital, family, grief not related to violence by you" or "strictly related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment".  DNI Clapper's press release specifies that, in a future version of SF-86,  "Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault" will also be allowed to answer "no" to Question 21.1. 

Notably, the interim guidance made the following policy announcement: "The interim guidance also reaffirms that an individual's decision to seek mental health care alone cannot adversely impact the individual's ability to obtain or maintain eligibility to hold a national security sensitive position or eligibility for access to classified information. Further, mental health counseling alone cannot form the basis of a denial of a security clearance. The decision to seek personal wellness and recovery should not be perceived to jeopardize an individual's security clearance and may favorably affect a person's eligibility determination."  The press release also emphasized that any disclosure of mental health counseling on an SF-86 is subject to privacy and other protections and not subject to general release.

If you have questions regarding issues concerning your security clearance or your application for a security clearance, please feel free to contact Passman & Kaplan for an initial consultation.

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