Of the 13 adjudicative criteria used to make a determination on someone’s eligibility to access classified information, psychological conditions were the ninth most likely to result in a denial or revocation. Despite the significant unlikelihood that mental health will result in clearance denial, it remains one of the more significant causes for concern for clearance applicants.
The most recent change to the SF-86 was a November announcement by the Director of National Intelligence that question 21, the mental health question, would be updated to only ask about mental health treatment related to a few specific criteria. The purpose was to reduce the stigma of seeking mental health counseling, a particularly common fear among military service members.
A recent post on the Department of Defense’s Deployment Health Clinical Center blog discussed the likelihood of someone losing their security clearance after seeking mental health treatment. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Carrie Kennedy, Director, Deployment Health Clinical Center, writes:
Psychologists and psychiatrists working in military treatment facilities are often asked to do security clearance evaluations, sometimes referred to as DoDCAFs (Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility). These evaluations can best be conceptualized as forensic or operational in nature, in that the intent of the evaluation is ultimately a question of national security and there is no traditional doctor/patient relationship assumed by either party.
While the mental health professional conducting the evaluation has no decisional role in whether or not individuals gain or maintain a clearance, they are often asked by the individual being evaluated, “Am I going to be able to get a clearance?” or “Am I going to lose my clearance?” The evaluating psychologist or psychiatrist can never answer this question one way or the other. The mental health evaluation comprises only one small piece of the information needed to contribute to the larger scope of these investigations. However, the vast majority of service members can be put at ease by the simple fact that it is a rare occurrence for someone to be denied a clearance or have their clearance revoked due to mental health reasons.
How rare is it?
DHCC’s Psychological Health Promotion Team, under the leadership of Dr. Mark Bates, conducted an analysis, courtesy of the Personnel Security/Assurance Division of the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) and the Defense Personnel and Security Research Center (PERSEREC) and identified the following:
- Between 2006 and 2012, only one in every 35,000 people either applying for the first time or seeking to maintain their clearance were either denied a clearance or had their clearance revoked after answering “Yes” to the dreaded Question 21 on Standard Form 86 (the question that pertains to mental health history).
- Further, during that same 6-year time period, of the 85,000 people who were either denied a clearance or had their clearance revoked, only 145 or 0.17 percent of denials and revocations were due to mental health reasons. That is significantly less than one percent.
The blog post emphasizes the reality that having an active federal security clearance or an interest in government work should not preclude anyone from seeking mental health treatment.