New Change to Psychological Health Question on the SF-86

In November, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued Revised Instructions for Completing Question 21, Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions,” ES 2013-00242 in hopes of making it clear that “mental health treatment is not a detriment to holding or maintaining a security clearance.”

Section 21 of the SF-86 has long been a cause for concern regarding many security clearance applicants and these revisions change the focus to the condition instead of whether or not the applicant has “consulted with” a healthcare professional regarding a mental health condition. “The mere act of consulting with a therapist or other mental health professional served as a stand-in for determining the existence of a mental health condition for purposes of the security clearance background investigation,” says Mary Kuntz for kcnblawg.com. “That question is now gone, replaced by questions asking for a diagnosis or conclusions reached by a court, or doctor, regarding a mental health condition.”

The revised Q21 asks if the respondent has:

  • been declared mentally incompetent by a court or administrative agency
  • been ordered to consult with a mental health professional by a court or administrative agency
  • been hospitalized for a mental health condition
  • been diagnosed by a physician or other health professional with specifically listed diagnoses
  • a mental health or other health condition that substantially adversely affects judgment, reliability and trustworthiness

While this revision is another step towards taking the stigma away from those seeking help for mental health issues, it may not be doing enough to ease anxieties.

“I doubt these clarifications will ease the minds of applicants who have ever been treated for mental health issues,” writes Lindy Kyzer in an article for ClearanceJobs.com. “Particularly because one of the more frequently asked mental health-related questions we receive at ClearanceJobs is what a respondent should list when they’ve received a diagnosis from a mental health professional but either disagreed with that diagnosis or refused treatment.”

As a security professional, I will keep watching how the revised questions will be used in the security clearance process, particularly, as Kuntz suggests, the last 5 questions which ask applicants to “self-assess whether a mental condition substantially adversely affects judgment, reliability or trustworthiness.”

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