Soldiers Told 'Just Say No' to Question 21
June 6, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 5, 2008) - When filling out security-clearance questionnaires, Soldiers have been told to just answer "no" to receiving mental-health consultation if it was counseling strictly to deal with stress from combat or related to marital, family or grief issues.
A message sent to Army activities worldwide Thursday night directs personnel to answer no under certain circumstances to question 21 on Standard Form 86, the Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The question asks: "In the last seven years, have you consulted with a mental-health professional or consulted with another health-care provider about a mental health condition'"
If the treatment was not court-ordered and was not the result of violence, then Soldiers or Army Civilian employees should simply answer no to receiving care to help them adjust after returning from service in a combat zone, according to the message to "all Army activities."
The ALARACT message guidance is an interim measure, Army G2 security division officials said, until an updated SF 82 can be printed with new wording for question 21.
The old wording was having a negative impact on the willingness of many Soldiers to seek mental-health treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems, according Army leaders. The message states that unit commanders reported the problem last year and the Army's investigator general looked into the issue.
"To correct this adverse perception and encourage Soldiers/Civilians to seek needed mental-health treatment, the (secretary of Defense) directed immediate implementation of the revised language for Q21," the message states. "The revision now excludes counseling related to marital, family or grief issues and counseling for adjustments from service in a military combat environment."
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey Jr. sent out a message to the field May 1 explaining the need to reduce the stigma to seeking mental-health assistance.
"We need to strongly encourage all of our leaders and Soldiers to seek professional help to address all health-related concerns, whether mental or physical," he said in the 'CSA Sends' message. "It should be considered a mark of strength and maturity to seek appropriate healthcare, whenever required. This is especially important for our Soldiers who are routinely exposed to traumatic events that may cause psychological stress."
Gen. Casey told commanders that they should inform their troops that "seeking mental health counseling will not adversely impact Soldiers/Civilians' eligibility in obtaining or retaining a security clearance."
Changing the wording on the security questionnaire is just part of the Army's current campaign to reduce the stigma of seeking mental-health treatment, officials said. The Army's leading psychologist, Col. Elspeth Richie, said last month that subtle changes in terms can make a difference in perceptions and advocated that mental-health treatment in the future be called "behavioral health" care.
The Army initially pressed to drop question 21 altogether, according to G2 officials. Instead, Office of Personnel Management officials agreed to change the wording on the next printing of SF 86.
The next edition of SF 86 will reflect the revised language for question 21 directed by the secretary of Defense: "In the last seven years, have you consulted with a health-care professional regarding an emotional or mental-health condition or were you hospitalized for such a condition'"
If Soldiers answer "yes" to the question, they should indicate who conducted the treatment and/or counseling, and sign the authorization for release of medical information, according to the current message to all Army activities.