If you have a mental health history beyond minor depression or anxiety; an extensive and/or recent substance abuse history; or you’re applying for a federal law enforcement position, chances are good that a psychological examination performed by a government-employed or government-contracted psychologist will be part of the security clearance process.

Statistically-speaking, a majority of even those applicants for whom a psychological evaluation is required will obtain a favorable resolution of their case. Only about 5% of applicants with mental health histories are ultimately denied a security clearance. But for that 5%, the psychological examination becomes a serious impediment to obtaining or retaining their desired career. When that happens, the prospects of obtaining a different outcome on appeal may appear dim. After all, how is the non-medical professional supposed to effectively challenge the findings of someone boasting an impressive pedigree of medical credentials?

Bring in the Experts

The fact is that you, the layperson applicant, are almost guaranteed not to succeed if you opt to challenge a psychological report on your own. But that calculus changes dramatically if you have your own medical expert who refutes the opinions of the government psychologist and is willing to testify on the basis for their opposing diagnosis.

Obtaining such an opinion isn’t cheap, but it is very often worth every penny of the cost. Equally worth the cost in these cases is competent legal representation. You can take that with a grain of salt – after all, I am a security clearance attorney – but if you’re doubting me, consider just a few of the outrageous things my colleagues and I have discovered over the years in psychological reports prepared by government-paid “experts”:

  • The psychologist used an outdated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders, or “DSM” – the veritable bible for mental health professionals. This isn’t just a matter of semantics; revisions to the DSM often include significant updates to diagnoses and prognoses as the profession’s understanding of mental health evolves.
  • The evaluator was an unsupervised or insufficiently supervised intern not qualified to independently diagnose a mental health condition.
  • The psychologist had a history of professional discipline and was practicing illegally on a suspended license.
  • The psychologist failed to administer any testing to support his or her diagnosis, where testing was clearly warranted.
  • The psychologist’s diagnosis was clearly unsupported by the DSM and other available medical evidence, resulting in a psychologist retained for the defense opining that the government psychologist literally invented a diagnosis that did not exist.

Second Opinion Can Help Challenge Findings

There are, of course, plenty of good and eminently competent mental health professionals working for the government. Like in any profession, however, there are also a handful of bad apples – people who have no business holding themselves out as an expert in their field. So, if you find yourself on the receiving end of a bad psychological report – especially one that doesn’t jive with your knowledge of your own history and the opinions of mental health professionals you’ve seen in your personal capacity – don’t take the evaluation lying down. Get a second opinion and seriously consider challenging the unfavorable findings.



This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com