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News | May 10, 2017

It’s okay to answer Question 21

By Chris Misener, DLA Intelligence

May is Mental Health Awareness Month — a good time to bring up question 21 on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions, the SF-86 form one completes for every security clearance, whether initial or renewal.

Question 21 asks about your psychological and emotional health, including any treatment. It ties into the Psychological Conditions section of the adjudicative guidelines. There are 13 adjudicative guidelines used to help to determine a person's reliability, trustworthiness and ability to protect classified information.

Because of this, some applicants for new or renewed security clearances fear answering  “yes” on question 21 will result in a denial or revocation of the clearance.

This could not be further from the truth.

Stated on the SF-86 itself is the following: “Mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to revoke or deny eligibility for access to classified information or for a sensitive position, suitability or fitness to obtain or retain Federal employment, fitness to obtain or retain contract employment, or eligibility for physical or logical access to federally controlled facilities or information systems.”

That voluntarily seeking mental health treatment is seen as a positive step is borne out by the rate of clearance denials and revocations for those who have sought such treatment. According to the Army, 99.98 percent of those who answered  “yes” to question 21 obtain or maintained their security clearance, and those who did not had other disqualifying issues.

Additionally, an found that according to the Defense Manpower Data Center and the Defense Personnel and Security Research, from 2006 and 2012, only 1 in every 35,000 people were either denied a clearance or had their clearance revoked after reporting “yes” to Question 21.

The analysis also found that during the same period, 85,000 people had their security clearances revoked or denied; of those 85,000, only 145 clearances were denied because of mental health. That is a .0017-percent denial or revocation based on mental health.

Reporting mental health treatment is seen as a positive action and shows that an individual is taking their mental health seriously and being responsible for their health. Seeking mental-health counseling, in and of itself, will not result in the denial, loss or suspension of a security clearance. Not seeking or continuing treatment when it is required or not reporting treatment can be a greater concern because it places in question a person’s ability to safeguard the nation’s secrets.

Your local DLA Intelligence Personnel Security Office is available to answer questions regarding mental-health reporting requirements and/or other questions about obtaining and maintaining a security clearance.