A recently released Department of Defense report cites a surge in reported sexual assault cases within the military’s ranks. More than 5,000 reports were filed in FY 2013. When it comes to military sexual assault and security clearances, those numbers are important as they relate to recent changes in how service members respond to questions concerning mental health counseling related to a sexual assault.

In April 2013 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued new guidance allowing victims of sexual assault to answer ‘no’ to controversial Question 21 of the security clearance questionnaire, which asks applicants if they have ever consulted with a health care professional for an emotional or mental health condition. A 2008 update allowed service members to answer ‘no’ if help was related to adjustments from service and a military combat environment. Critics argued that with increased instances of sexual assault within the military’s ranks, additional clarification was needed to protect the privacy of sexual assault victims.

Growing reports of military sexual assaults are garnering the attention of Pentagon leaders and members of Congress. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law last week, included changes to commanders’ authority, designed to encourage more victims to seek help.

Without much context around the data, many are hesitant to draw conclusions. The report didn’t indicate how many of the perpetrators were service members, or where the assaults took place. But the rise in reported sexual assaults suggest more service members may also be stepping forward to get mental health counseling. The good news for those service members is that policy changes enacted in 2013 ensure they can do so without fear of any negative implications to their security clearance.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer