The Obama Administration is looking to change its security questionnaire to better address mental health issues. Yet security and mental health professionals say it may cause more problems.
The administration proposed last month that the mental-health question in the security clearance questionnaire be reworded to ask applicants if they “had a mental health condition that would cause an objective observer to have concern about your judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness in relation to your work?”
The previous question asked simply if the applicant had “consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or were you hospitalized for such a condition?”
The new question explains a mental health condition as “exhibiting behavior that was emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre; receiving an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that you had a condition that might impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness; or failing to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition (e.g., failure to take prescribed medication).”
Elspeth Ritchie, the chief clinical officer for the D.C. Department of Mental Health and former Army psychiatrist, said the effort is “a step forward,” but still lacked clarity. “I will say that it’s really confusing right now and I think the concern about whether this would make it more confusing is a valid concern,” she said in Politico.
Yet some say the change in wording causes more confusion over what should be a simple question.
”I think it’s really peculiar and might cause more questions than it provides solutions,” said Sheldon Cohen, an attorney who represents federal employees and contractors in security clearance disputes, in Politico. “The [current] question is an objective thing. The change they’ve proposed just, I think, muddies the water….I don’t think it’s going to produce any kind of realistic improvement.”
The change is part of a comprehensive review being conducted by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to a notice announcing the change. That notice also announced that victims of sexual assault who’ve received counseling for that need not reveal that treatment on the security questionnaire.
The security clearance questionnaire changes also include that use of drugs that are illegal under federal law must be reported even if they are legal under state law and the recognition of civil unions as a legal alternative to marriage.