Like ill-considered social media posts, old SF-86’s are hard to shake. Many of my clients are shocked to discover that the SF-86 they completed years ago – perhaps even for a different federal agency – is being dredged up as evidence against them now in a security clearance denial or revocation case.
Common Struggle for MEPS or ROTC
It happens most often with individuals who completed their first SF-86 shortly after high-school as part of military entrance processing (MEPS) or Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). With the former, military recruiters frequently complete SF-86’s on behalf of their recruits, instructing recruits to sign paperwork they haven’t reviewed and which contains false statements designed to ensure successful enlistment (i.e., to ensure the recruiter makes his/her numbers). With the latter, it’s more often an issue of age and maturity. “My college ROTC buddies told me to lie about my drug use” is something I’ve heard countless times.
The problems don’t tend to arise until years later when an applicant is completing a new SF-86 and is now either confronted with the choice of lying again for consistency or explaining the discrepancy. In cases where the recruiter completed the prior SF-86, sometimes the applicant doesn’t even know what was reported previously.
False Statements on SF-86 for ROTC
Where the false statements were submitted during ROTC, the applicant’s age at the time of the initial SF-86 and the passage of time since can both be mitigating factors; but they aren’t always enough. I’ve seen plenty of people lose or nearly lose their career over false statements made years earlier.
False Statements on SF-86 for MEPS
Where the false statements were submitted as part of MEPS, on an SF-86 completed by the recruiter, a different approach is sometimes more effective: demonstrating that the false statements were the recruiter’s, not the applicants. This requires poring through the old SF-86 for immaterial false statements – the kind that the applicant would have had no motivation to lie about – to demonstrate that the applicant didn’t actually complete the form. Where a recruiter lies, he or she usually isn’t too concerned about getting other details right, like the applicant’s height, eye color, etc.
Lessons Learned for your SF-86
Neither scenario is impossible to overcome, but the recruiter-completed SF-86 generally tends to offer the most robust defense. Either way, it’s not without investments of time, money, and stress that could be avoided entirely. Never sign an SF-86 completed by someone else without first reading it with a fine-tooth comb and correcting any inaccuracies. And trust your instincts, assuming your first instinct isn’t to lie. If a recruiter or fellow ROTC cadet tells you “that’s not what the government cares about” or “no one admits to that”, remember that it isn’t their career on the line – it’s yours.
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.