Mental Health Counseling and Security Clearances
With the ever-increasing number of veterans returning from multiple tours of duty in hostile fire zones who are diagnosed with some level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), Question #21 on the SF-86 scares a lot of security clearance applicants. This fear stems from the belief that admitting to getting professional counseling or help for an emotional or psychological health concern will result in a clearance denial. In all actuality, seeking help for a problem, whether it be for PTSD, alcohol or substance abuse, or other types of disorders shows that you recognize there is a problem and that help is needed to cope with or resolve it. During a background investigation a health care professional can corroborate that the condition would not impact your ability to handle and protect classified information, and may also provide a future favorable prognosis. In the eyes of an adjudicator this is mitigation in your favor and if there are no other issues related to the concern then eligibility for a clearance is granted.
Honesty is the best policy when answering this question and you should read the exceptions to having to answer “yes” carefully. If you do respond with a “yes” answer, ensure you provide the specific dates and up to date care provider contact information, as this will be followed up on in the investigation. Although PTSD is not limited to only those serving in the military, a very good resource for information on this subject is the Real Warrior Campaign website developed by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.