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Applicants won't have to disclose all mental health appointments on new security questionnaires

November 23, 2016 (Photo Credit: Leo Shane III/Staff)
In an effort to avoid discouraging potential applicants from seeking mental health care, intelligence officials have updated background security clearance questionnaires to make clear that seeking professional help won’t disqualify candidates from landing a job.

In a memo earlier this month, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced he would drop a question about whether applicants have sought mental health care and instead ask whether they have ever been declared mentally incompetent, hospitalized due to a mental health condition, or been ordered by a court to seek specialized health care.

“I want to make clear that an individual’s decision to seek mental health treatment and/or counseling will not, in and of itself, adversely impact his or her ability to obtain or maintain a national security position,” Clapper's instruction states.

“These questions shift the focus from whether an individual has sought treatment to whether an individual has a condition that may affect his or her eligibility for access to classified information or for eligibility to hold a sensitive position.”

Advocacy groups have lobbied for the change for years, arguing that the question as worded before hinted that seeking any mental health care could label them a security threat.

They’ve also noted that the question sent a negative message to troops transitioning from the military to civilian defense posts, even while military commanders have emphasized the need to seek treatment for traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a statement this week, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, praised the updated question as a step toward ending the stigma of seeking psychiatric care or counseling.  

“Getting this question changed has been a very long process, but I think the finished product will allow service members -- and indeed, any survivor of sexual assault with a security clearance -- to feel more comfortable getting the counseling they need,” she said.

Clapper said in his memo that seeking professional help “demonstrates responsible behavior and may be considered favorably when evaluating a person’s eligibility for a national security position.”

The change in security forms came just days before Clapper announced his retirement, effective early next year.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at
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