Security Clearances and Sexual Assault
There’s no doubt that 10 years of persistent conflict have had a profound impact on the lives of those serving in the military. For years stigma surrounding mental health made service members hesitant to seek help. But with so many coming home alive – but with the unseen scars of post-traumatic-stress – the need to reduce the stigma of seeking counseling or assistance became a key concern for military leaders. One of the steps taken to help encourage service members to get the help they needed was adjusting the guidelines surrounding question 21 of the National Security Clearance Questionnaire, SF-86. Question 21 asks applicants to list mental and emotional health counseling, but was adjusted to eliminate the need to list combat-related counseling.
Now service members who have endured sexual trauma are calling on officials to update the policy to keep victims from having to disclose the sensitive and painful details surrounding a sexual assault, reports Military Times:
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said sexual trauma counseling received in the previous seven years indeed must be reported, but it should not hurt a career. “It is highly unlikely that any mental health counseling, in and of itself, would result in the denial or revocation of a clearance,” she said.
Smith did not address the issue of privacy; she stressed this was not a Defense Department policy, but one that applies throughout the federal government.
For sexual assault victims, the requirement to report counseling is especially galling because the government decided in 2008 that service members receiving mental health counseling for combat-related mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, do not have to report their treatment.
The security clearance process is intrusive – and designed to be so. But the heart of the issue is whether victims should be forced to open up old wounds as a part of their clearance process, and whether it’s really critical to the investigation (as officials already determined combat-related counseling not to be).