Obtaining Security Clearance

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).

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    I for one see no reason to bring this up. The person giving counseling and the local commander, who has the ultimate say so, can monitor and make decisions of access.

    Take it from a person who has interviewed many victims of this crime, it serves no purpose in the background process.

  2. Avatar

    I know that as I review the question on the eqip, subsequent information should be reviewed if the applicant was the actual crime purpertrater, not the victim. I would never reopen a case to verify treatment of a victim of a sexual assault, here or in the war theater. Am I reading this thread wrong?

  3. Avatar

    Nope–looks as if they are referring to metal health, IMO.

  4. Avatar

    “Bang your head! Metal Health’ll drive you mad”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  5. Avatar

    Adjudicator 101:

    Would welcome opportunity to communicate directly. Please click on my name (above in red) for a webpage that displays my email address.

  6. Avatar

    I also feel that question #21 on “Mental and Emotional Health” is poorly written. I see no need to list certain types of counseling/treatment, but I don’t think that creating exceptions based on the reason for the counseling/treatment to be particularly helpful. Perhaps a better solution is to exclude counseling/treatment that does not involve medication. This is a somewhat low threshold, but I can’t think of any other. I remember all the time I wasted as an investigator following up on things like non-marital relationship counseling and stress counseling.

  7. Avatar

    I love that we have an adjudicator who posts on here from their perspective for the clearance process. I thank you for that Adjudicator 101. Yet the more I read about what you say Adjudicator 101 the more frustrated I get. It seems we as investigators are wasting our time reporting things that are not needed for the adjudication process. When will OPM learn this? It seems OPM is more of the problem than the solution.

  8. Avatar

    We spend more time on making sure dates are exact, than we do on substantive issues. I still to this day have no idea why we talk to references. What do you think they will say? We could close cases so much quicker. Also, who cares about a speeding ticket. I sometimes will have to drive for 6-7 hours to check a record on a ticket to find out there was a $25 fine. I could go on and on, but don’t want to waste all of the space here.

  9. Avatar


    Nice–you are the first to slip-in a musical reference here. Good work!!

  10. Avatar

    Thanks BW, you had a little typo and it reminded me of the song. I would make a great reviewer, I would RZ your report with song lyrics in the case message and you would have to try and figure out the RZ by the meaning of the lyrics. RZ’s and fun, all rolled into one!

  11. Avatar

    Should I just shut the hell up??? haha. I will try not to not ‘push your buttons’, but hey ~ we work for the government. What kind of employment happiness were you expecting?? Nothing works effectively when we deal in a government process and streamlining is considered a fairytale along the lines of dragons and unicorns.
    OPM wants to make money, they do that by charging for each process you are requested to complete; dumb speeding tickets verifications in court or dates for incarceration of manslaughter ~same price. Unfortunately, my office deals with the worst of the worst and the second one is my normal type of request. Anything I request is for due process hearings, not just to satisfy scope of an investigation. Now, DISCO requests additional information to fulfill scope that may not be completed. OPM is swell for closing without everything completed then charging for a reopen. $$$$$.

  12. Avatar

    Adjudicator 101:

    I imagine your use of Written Interrogatories has increased exponentially since 2005.

  13. Avatar

    Adjudicator 101,
    I love hearing your side of the process. I also think I would enjoy being an adjudicator. It is pretty sad that our national security comes down to the all mighty $$$$$.

  14. Avatar

    Every single case I process has at least one Written Interrogatory, sometimes several. It is almost part of the scope since OPM started the investigations. DSS was clean cut and ready to go. The judges now say that OPM reports ‘hearsay’ and we need evidence provided by official documents from employers, courts, police, etc. This, in part, is why I said earlier that an investigator with a scanner is the best thing!
    This whole process is so very screwed up.
    Why even have opm investigate if it is not admissable for hearing? We trust the investigators to dig into/report the confidential backgrounds of people but the judges don’t. But, I must say, by the time DOHA goes to a hearing the applicant hardly stands a chance unless they have major evidence to mitigate their security issues….
    Now, Investigator, we have a few old DSS investigators in here, the liked investigating, just didn’t like the travel side of it. what are the pros and cons of your job, iyo.

  15. Avatar

    Why have investigators compile information that is not necessary for adjudications? I’m getting A LOT of that lately. Unreasonable requests for things that are not required by the handbook. When I question it (to my companies) I am told “it’s what OPM wants so we have to give it to them”. Especially since the re-bid is open… Super crazy.

  16. Avatar

    Adjudicator 101:

    It seems to me that getting documents in either paper or electronic copy is not the problem. Certainly having a portable scanner would alleviate searching for a copy machine or asking someone to make a copy of a document. Unless things have changed recently, the problem is attaching the document to the ROI.

  17. Avatar

    Why is there a problem with attaching it to the ROI??? Why can’t they do it?

  18. Avatar

    Adjudicator 101:

    I’ve been out of it for 4 years now, but when I left, OPM did not have a mechanism for attaching anything to an ROI submitted electronically through PIPS. They would not allow us to take sworn statements. Instead we had to type the statement directly into the body of the ROI. The only time I took a sworn statement while working for OPM was when it was specifically requested by the CAF, which happened very rarely. With DSS almost half of my ROIs had sworn statements. These ROIs had to be mailed in rather than submitted electronically thru FIMS/CCMS, but that was okay with DSS because they were willing to accept the delay involving in using the mail instead of electronic submission. OPM was not willing to eat the extra 4 or 5 days mail added to their case turnaround time.

    I would like to know if things have changed, so anyone currently working as an investigtor using PIPS, please comment.

  19. Avatar

    Currently, for the OPM contract, all documentation has to be sent in by Fedex. These are mostly affidavits on RSI case types. You can’t attach anything in PIPS.

    There are other agencies whose computer systems have the ability to scan in and attach documents. But those agencies have their own reporting systems through secure networks (not PIPS).

  20. Avatar

    Thanks for the input. RSIs. . . but of course. RSI are not factored into OPMs average turnaround times.

  21. Avatar

    We’re able to fax/scan documents in connection with a ROI. You can’t do it through PIPS and it’s a pain in the ass, which is why we don’t do it a lot. I’m kind of wondering though, what attachments are you looking for? Affidavits? They way we do them is so ridiculous, I can’t even believe it. The last agency I worked for, every statement was an Affidavit, from all parties. The statement would be taken, typed, reviewed, fixed and signed, all in one shot and all at the same time. Efficent and it eliminates the Subject from changing their story. The hand-written statement, then typed up and then have subject look it over and go back and fix and then sign days later is just so, so stupid.

  22. Avatar

    I never knew we could fax/ scan documents (maybe I can’t b/c I’m a contractor and don’t have a company email address?).

  23. Avatar

    I think all affidavits are useless. There, to me, is never a good reason for any Investigator to write someone else’s statement and have them sign. To me, it should be by the subj’s hand, no matter how disorganized. Just do a Q & A session after a statement is written.

  24. Avatar


    None of us contractor’s add anything as attachments, unless directed for some unknown reason.

  25. Avatar

    I am a proponent of sworn statements (affidavits), and I feel they are needed in about 5% of cases, particularly when there is an indication of intentional omission or falsification of relevant information on an SF86. I understand the difficulty involved when most Subject Interviews today are not conducted in locations specifically intended for that purpose. A sworn statement can add 2 to 8 hours to time required for a Subject Interview (depending on the need for a second contact with the Subject and travel time), but it can save 20 to 30 days in adjudication time. I strongly feel that the contents of ROIs should meet the needs of adjudicators, not the often inane requirements of investigative agencies and their case analysts. (e.g. recontact Subject and ask about his future intent regarding speeding violations.)

  26. Avatar

    I am as well. I just don’t like the fact that they had us writing them. We all know that anyone can say, I was just told to sign this and never got to read it first. Now, when it’s by their hand, no disputing or minimal chance.

  27. Avatar

    In my about 6 years of conducting the full range of OPM background investigations (mainly DoD cases) I have NEVER done a sworn statement (affidavit). I recall being trained on it when I started, and I’ve got some dusty photocopies of first and additional page forms to use, but it has never come up for me. I’ll need re-training if it ever does.

  28. Avatar

    Blue’s Clues. You probably just missed them. We did affidavits on all SPINS. This is the only time I’ve done them, because SPINS was all I did when I started. I think these went away in mid 2005 (Estimated)

  29. Avatar

    All Investigators:

    I think there is a strong possibility that the requirement for sworn statements (for Subject’s and perhaps for references) may return in the not too distant future. New Federal Investigative Standards were approved in December 2008, but never implemented. Subparagraph 11.1.3 of Paragraph 11 (Expandable Focused Investigation) of those Standards stated: “Statements should be taken and signed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1746 whenever appropriate.” In summer 2009 after the new administration took office, OPM and ODNI backed away from the December 2008 Federal Investigative Standards and indicated further changes were needed. I think OPM wanted some changes made to the 3-tier structure. They are now projecting full implementation of revised Federal Investigative Standards by December 2012, but I haven’t seen what changes they have made or are proposing.

  30. Avatar

    So for all SJ interviews whether the case is a SPIN or BI type case we will have to go over and correct the SF 86 as well as obtain a statement from the SJ for all issues. Do you know how much time that is going to add to the ESIs and how much of a pain that will be? Also who decides when the statements will be “appropriate”? Will OPM will the agency? Right now I only do them when an agency requests a statement and it is usually for a RSI case. If these changes do happen I am sure many investigators will resign due to the added work.

  31. Avatar

    Sworn statements for references?


  32. Avatar

    Fed. Investigator:
    It’s been a long time, but I occasionally took sworn statements from references on PSIs while working for DIS/DSS. We even had a special form for it, called a Witness Statement. We also used them extensively when conducting internal investigations.

  33. Avatar

    Oy vey.

  34. Avatar

    Is there ever going to be an end to these F-ed up Linguist cases?

  35. Avatar


    Not sure what you mean–guess I’ve been spared.

  36. Avatar


    Feeling your pain. (BW-the linguist cases tend to be VERY time consuming- nuff said)…

  37. Avatar


    They’re translators being hired and are all priority. The best part is that every last one has at least 3,678 issues each. That’s no exaggeration, 3,678 issues. Each.


  38. Avatar

    Soory for ya–but the trend of issues seems to be growing every day. My cases seem to be taking longer these days.

  39. Avatar

    I’m glad I’m not in your neck of the woods. Fed, that’s a bunch of issues that is.

  40. Avatar

    I am glad I am not the only one seeing more and more issues these days. A group of pencil pushers in some cubicles at my company determined it should take a new investigator 6 hours to conduct and type one ESI. A Sr. Investigator should be able to conduct and type one in 5.5 hours. A co-worker of mine told me she had an ESI that took her 3 hours to conduct and 5 hours to type because there were 42 financial issues on the case. We just don’t have enough time to finish all of the work we have in our area.

  41. Avatar

    It is crazy. Even on the non-issue cases, it still takes forever to reconcile the unlisted employments/ residences (7 instead of 10 years) and all the other administrative errors people are making on the paperwork.

    It wold save SO much time, energy and money for OPM to reject cases (and not start processing) if the paperwork is not correct…

  42. Avatar

    I completely agree Contractor.

  43. Avatar


    I’ve actually had about 6 3-4 hr ESI’s lately. I had never had these long one’s in the past. It’s taking me about 3-4 hrs to type these things, especially financial one’s. Now, I have alot of years doing this, so I feel bad for new folks starting out–it must be taking them about 6-7 hrs to type these.

  44. Avatar


    I’m in the same boat. I can’t imagine how the new people are feeling. It has been absolutely crazy lately. Harder to make money from my end. My general guideline is that it takes about as long to type as the interview took. So, a two hour interview equals two hours of typing. When you add in travel time, tolls, parking, etc, my profit margins are WAY down.

    Missing the good old days… (Specially some SPINS).

  45. Avatar

    All –

    I, too, have been dealing with much more time consuming cases over the last two years or so – and I’ve been pushed by my employer to complete them faster, faster, faster! The number of non-issue cases I’m working that require 4+ hours to type only the ESI is staggering – usually caused by undisclosed residences, education, employments, relatives, deployments and other foreign travel.

    I have come to believe that NO ONE at the base/installation level is actually reviewing case papers before they go to OPM. I see this especially on ANACI/NACLC case papers. How can an active duty military person list only one residence and one duty station for the last seven years? Is it possible? Sure it is possible, but highly unlikely – and definitely suspect!

    I tried to market myself to local commands at the base/installation level as someone who could provide in person, one-on-one counsel to people completing case papers and as someone with the experience to conduct expert review and analysis of case papers prior to papers going to OPM. I was laughed at. Seriously. Laughed at. Several security officers told me that it wasn’t their problem – figuring out the case papers was the investigator’s problem. There is NO incentive (or disincentive!) for anyone other than the investigator to get the case papers straight.

  46. Avatar

    Another thought:

    The new ‘branching logic’ SF-86 allows subject more places to make comments, supposedly to afford subjects an opportunity to explain derogatory information – supposedly to save investigators time and speed up the overall process. This is NOT a time saving idea. This, whether it was meant to or not, will encourage subjects to disclose all kinds of information that is not required to be disclosed. We will be resolving all kinds of non-issues that became issues as soon as subjects filled in comments boxes.

  47. Avatar

    I may have mentioned this before, but the total SF86 rejection rate for industrial cases is about 10%. DISCO rejects about 5% for content discrepancies/omissions and OPM rejects about 5% primarily due to fingerprint problems. At DISCO reject rates for large, class A and AA facilities, is 2% to 3%; whereas reject rates for small/non-possessing facilities (class D and E) is 30% to 57%. The problem I see is small facilities assigning FSO duties to people with no prior experience and no one to train them. Eventually they complete the online training offered by DSS, but it’s primarily focused on handling classified material and using JPAS—not nearly enough depth or breadth of training unless there’s an experienced person nearby to provide guidance. DISCO should do a better job of screening out deficient SF86s, but it’s easier to shift this work onto the investigators. In my experience contractor SF86s were generally completed more accurately than military SF86. Here again, a sergeant or junior officer is often given the job of unit Security Manager as an additional duty with no training. By the time he/she learns the job it’s time to move on to another post and a different assignment. Unfortunately it’s been going on like this for decades.

  48. Avatar

    One thing I am also see a lot of is that recruiters have no clue how to fill out the SF-86. I can not count the number of times I have had to correct a new recruits SF-86 in my ROI because the recruiter made up information just to get the form done. It is nuts.
    Also I think it should be required that all managers be put back out in the field for one month two to three times a year so they see what we as investigators deal with. For the longest time we would hear some our managers say ” I know what it is like out there I was in the field at one time.” All current investigators reply to that statement with a laugh and a shaking of our head because things are totally different in the field these days. After we told them things are different out in the field these days our managers stopped saying it. I don’t think our managers could handle what we do. One of our numerous VPs even said he could not be an investigator these days.

  49. Avatar

    It’s got to the point that a mostly clean ESI is approaching 10 pages to type, all in fixing minutia. forget about any credit or foreign contact problems, that just blows it through the roof.

    And heaven help you if you forget an i-note, the entire world will come crashing down on your head.

  50. Avatar

    Now, rumor has it (Will be fact) that quality is going to be the flavor of the week from now on. This is forcing very flexible CRA’s into tight spots. I see a trend in which we may have to cite the manual verbatim in the reports. If this happens, I’ll be the first to say goodbye. I’ve already seen this trend. There is going to be no flexibility on wording–Hold on tight folks.

  51. Avatar

    I have heard the same thing and it is already starting for me. Our reviewers are asking for things they have never asked for and some of the things they ask for are ridiculous. Its not good enough to confirm SJ does not know his M-N-L’s middle name as he indicated NMN on his case papers. Now they want a brief paragraph as to why the SJ does not know it. Adjudicator 101 even said he does not care about this and I am quite sure most other adjudicators/security officers don’t care about it either. OPM wants 100% quality on every case. That is not going to happen with all the petty stuff they want in ROIs and all of the work we have.

  52. Avatar


    We are all in the same boat. Both my OPM contracts have stressed the quality issues (even when totally unrelated to adjudicative guidelines and even when the subject clarified the information in the comments sections).

    As a contractor, I have always tried to maximize my output and efficiency is key. I think it’s going to start being employment and social source testimonies only, unless they significantly up my compensation for the ESI’s. No interest in neighbor sources, as I can end up out to the neighborhood a few times before I complete my items. Unless I have multiple records at the same location it is also not worth it…

  53. Avatar


    Don’t blame you a bit. I’m working full time and feel the same. All of these extra contacts mean nothing for us full-timers either; it’s just added time with no sources units gained. Life is definitely getting tougher.

  54. Avatar


    Never will happen, especially us old folks. We have been conditioned one-way and now they want it another. It’s gonna be like training all over again. I know it’s gonna be hard to completely change writing styles. I think if it has to be worded in someone else’s words, than why have us at all.