Denial or revocation of a security clearance due to a mental health issue is very rare; however interim security clearances can be and often are “declined” solely on the basis of mental health treatment listed on a Standard Form 86—SF86 (Questionnaire for National Security Positions). This potentially affects tens of thousands of clearance applicants each year.
Regarding eligibility standards for access to classified information, Executive Order 12968 states:
“No negative inference concerning the standards in this section may be raised solely on the basis of mental health counseling. . . . However, mental health counseling, where relevant to the adjudication of access to classified information, may justify further inquiry to determine whether the standards of subsection (b) of this section are satisfied, and mental health may be considered where it directly relates to those standards.”
All information required on an SF86 is considered relevant. The only types of mental health treatment presumed not to be relevant are those that fall into one of the specific exceptions to Question #21, “Mental and Emotional Health,” on the SF86. Question #21 reads:
Mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to revoke or deny a clearance. In the last 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? Answer “No” if the counseling was for any of the following reason and was not court-ordered
1) strictly marital, family, grief not related to violence by you; or
2) strictly related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment.
The question starts with the sentence: “Mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to revoke or deny a clearance.” However, the “declination” of an interim clearance is not considered a clearance denial, so the sentence does not apply to interim clearance decisions.
Guideline I (Psychological Conditions) of the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” states, “No negative inference concerning the standards in this Guideline may be raised solely on the basis of seeking mental health counseling.” It is the policy of the Defense Security Service (DSS) to use the standards in the Adjudicative Guidelines for the granting both interim clearances and final clearances. In theory if the SF86 contains no information indicative of a current or past condition that could impair judgment, reliability or trustworthiness, there should be no basis for declining an interim clearance under this guideline. However, contrary to this policy, the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), which is a part of DSS, regularly declines interim clearances when mental health counseling is listed on the SF86.
The information provided at the DSS webpage on interim clearances, as it pertains to mental health, was obviously written for an older, obsolete version of the SF86. It identifies emotional, mental and personality disorders as an example of one of the most common reasons for an interim clearance declination. It goes on to state:
Not all of the above examples will result in the decline of an interim eligibility. There can be mitigating factors such as a particular behavior was not recent, or it was an isolated incident. Or, in the case of emotional, mental and personality disorders, mental health treatment [was] for a temporary condition such as that caused by a death, illness or marital breakup. In this regard, it is important that an applicant for a personnel security clearance answer all questions fully as requested on the security application form. A remarks section exists on the form where information may be added if there is not room in the applicable section of the form to provide additional details. For example, an applicant may want to provide reasons for mental health treatment.
This passage clearly indicates that mental health treatment by itself can result in the declination of an interim clearance. It also suggests mitigation is possible, if the treatment was only for a temporary condition caused by death, illness or marital breakup. It is uncertain what is meant by “illness,” but bereavement/grief counseling and marital counseling no longer have to be listed on the SF86 and therefore would not enter into an interim clearance determination. The important point is that mitigation of this issue for an interim clearance is possible.
MITIGATING MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT
Since interim clearance determinations are made very early in the security clearance process, to be successful it is necessary to provide information with the SF86 indicating that no potentially disqualifying condition exists or that such condition is fully mitigated. There are things that you should do before you actually fill out the SF86.
Discuss this matter with your doctor (psychiatrist or psychologist) before you apply for job that requires a security clearance. If you doctor feels that your past or present condition does not adversely affect your eligibility for a clearance, obtain a letter from your doctor on letterhead stationary stating either that:
- You do not have a condition or treatment that could impair your judgment, reliability or ability to properly safeguard classified national security information, or
- You have a condition that could impair your judgment, reliability or ability to properly safeguard classified national security information, but the condition is under control and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
The letter should include your doctor’s address, telephone and fax numbers, and a statement indicating that he/she is willing to answer questions about your condition, treatment, and prognosis from any government security official by telephone, fax, mail, or in person. The letter should also describe your condition, treatment, and prognosis. You should complete a medical information release form (one that is acceptable to your doctor) authorizing your doctor to discuss your case with government security officials and leave a copy of the release on file at your doctor’s office. Also give your doctor a completed copy of the SF86 Authorization for the Release of Medical Information.
When filling out the SF86, indicate in the “Continuation Space” of the paper version or in the comment section of Question #21 on the electronic version (Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Process—eQIP) that you are submitting a letter from your doctor regarding your mental health treatment.
Give a copy of both releases and the original letter from your doctor to the person who processes your clearance application, so that these documents can be forwarded to the government official who makes your interim clearance determination. You can place the letter from your doctor in a properly marked, sealed envelope to prevent people, other than the appropriate government security official, from reading it.
There are scores of federal adjudication facilities employing several hundred trained professional adjudicators who are authorized to make interim and final clearance decisions. There are a greater number of personnel security specialists, assigned to a multitude of military and government security offices that initiate or process security clearance requests, who are also authorized to make interim clearance decisions. Among this latter group the level of training and experience vary greatly. Consequently there is much less consistency in interim clearance decisions than in final clearance decisions. Success in obtaining an interim clearance may depend more on the experience, training, and mindset of the decision maker than on the persuasiveness of the mitigating information submitted.
In the vast majority of cases where an applicant successfully mitigates a security issue with information included in or submitted with an SF86 and receives an interim clearance, they also later receive a final clearance. For a complete discussion of the relevance, investigation, and adjudication of psychological conditions for final security clearances, read the article “Psychological Conditions and Final Security Clearances.”
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