3 Times Where Mental Health Issues Cost a Security Clearance

Security Clearance

Security clearance decisions are favored toward protecting national security and those granted clearances should exercise sound decision making and demonstrate that they are trustworthy. Guideline I, Psychological Conditions takes into account the mental, personal, and emotional issues that can impact a person’s judgement leading to impaired reliability or trustworthiness.

A diagnosis is not necessary to raise a psychological condition concern and produce a security clearance denial decision based on Guideline I. For example, a history of emotional, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, bizarre, and other behavior not otherwise covered under other guidelines is enough grounds to deny a clearance if not mitigated. Where an applicant has been diagnosed in the past, the Government should request consultation by qualified health care professionals.

As with other guidelines, concerns under Guideline I can be mitigated. Examples include the applicant who received treatment that controls the condition, is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis, or the applicant whose previous condition is under control or in remission. Additional mitigation opportunities take into account singular events which can trigger a one-time psychological condition, such as divorce, death or other catastrophic event where the past emotional instability was a temporary condition and there is no indication of a current problem.

A review of actual security clearance cases offers only a small number of security clearance decisions based solely on Guideline I concerns. The following examples demonstrate just a few cases where security clearances were denied because of psychological conditions.

No Follow-Up

An applicant had been denied a security clearance as a result of being diagnosed as bipolar and other issues under other Guidelines (drug and alcohol dependence). While he successfully mitigated some issues, he did not mitigate his bipolar diagnosis. He simply did not pursue a new diagnosis or get documentation to mitigate concerns under Guideline I. While he had presented character references for trustworthiness, without the proper follow-up from with a qualified medical professional, his clearance request was denied.

Symptoms Continue

An applicant had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. Since then, they have continued to receive treatment. During the clearance process, Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) requested that a mental health professional perform a psychological evaluation. The psychologist also diagnosed the applicant with a psychotic and schizoaffective disorder. The psychologist further expressed the opinion that the applicant could continue to experience symptoms that could put classified information at risk and a clearance was denied.

Likely to relapse

An applicant had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. During the security clearance process, DOHA requested an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional. The psychiatric expert also diagnosed schizophrenia but no current psychological problems and therefore found the mental condition to be in remission. However, the expert did determine that the applicant is still likely to have a future relapse. The applicant’s thought process, if relapse occurred, could put classified information at risk.

In comparison with other security clearance issues, there were but a few cases over a 10 year period where Guideline I applied. Where applicants have received a past psychological condition diagnosis, the government requested consultation by qualified health care professionals. In these cases, the mitigations were not strong enough to reduce risk enough to grant security clearances.

Jeffrey W. Bennett is a security consultant with SFPC, SAPPC, ISOC, ISP certifications. He maintains a security blog and newsletter and is the author of many security books including DoD Security Clearance and Contracts Guidebook-What Cleared Contractors Need to Know About Their Need to Know, The Insider’s Guide to Security Clearances, and books on security certification. Visit his website www.redbikepublishing.com for more information.

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