Financial problems or PTSD need not affect security clearance

By Tamara HaireJuly 8, 2009

Combat Stress Control Center
Sgt. Callen Weispfennig (left), an occupational therapy assistant with the 785th Medical Company's Combat Stress Control Fitness Team, hands a patient's information file to Spc. Lindsey Gunning, a mental health specialist with the 785th Med. Co., at ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 8, 2009) -- With the nation in the throes of an economic downturn and entering the seventh year of overseas combat, some Soldiers and civilians are worried about their security clearance.

The stress of combat and the rise in foreclosures have some Soldiers wondering if their security clearance will be impacted.

"All Army personnel should understand that they can obtain counseling services for financial and mental health issues without undue concern of placing their security clearance status in jeopardy," said Col. Edward Fish, commander, U.S. Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility, known as the CCF.

Army leaders want to ensure Soldiers that the security clearance process is fair, equitable and comprehensive and the Army is taking steps to ensure it remains that way. Leading this effort is the deputy chief of staff, G-2, who is responsible for policy formulation, evaluation, and oversight of intelligence activities for the Department of the Army. This includes policy development and oversight of the security clearance process, to include oversight of the CCF.

The CCF reviews personnel security investigations to grant security clearances for Soldiers, civilian employees and contractor personnel. The CCF uses the national adjudicative guidelines to process security clearance requests. These guidelines outline the standard application of the process, which includes consideration of both favorable and unfavorable information, identify specific concerns, and highlight associated mitigating factors.

A bankruptcy or foreclosure will not automatically prevent one from obtaining or maintaining a security clearance, according to G-2 officials. They explain there are many conditions surrounding financial hardships that often mitigate security concerns.

The guideline for financial considerations focuses primarily on individuals who are financially overextended because they may be at risk of engaging in illegal acts to generate funds. For instance, financial guidelines consider "the conditions that resulted in the financial problem were largely beyond the person's control...and the individual acted responsibly under the circumstances." Adjudicators identify such conditions as mitigating circumstances.

For example, if an individual did not have financial problems in the past, yet was forced into foreclosure because of a permanent change of station, or PCS move, adjudicators would consider this a mitigating circumstance. However, if the individual has a history of not meeting financial obligations and now forecloses on a home, this would display a pattern of financial irresponsibility that cannot be easily mitigated, officials said.

Likewise, a bankruptcy will not automatically prevent obtaining a security clearance.

There are many other conditions surrounding financial hardships that often mitigate security concerns, officials said. About 98 percent of cases received by the CCF which involve financial issues were granted a security clearance. This trend has been consistent since 2005.

Individuals under financial duress are encouraged to contact their local Army Community Service or Military One Source to obtain financial counseling to determine how to best manage their debts.

In addition, Soldiers, civilians and contractors should not be forced to weigh the detrimental impacts of a possible loss of a security clearance against the choice of whether or not to seek mental health counseling or treatment, officials said.

Many Soldiers expressed an unwillingness to participate in behavioral or psychological health programs based on the perception that a "Yes" answer to the mental health question (Q21) on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Standard Form 86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions would lead to denial, suspension or possible loss of a security clearance.

The OPM conducts the background investigations on Army personnel seeking a security clearance. The OPM ensures that investigations are conducted in a manner compliant with the revised Q21, which excludes the reporting of treatment related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment, such as post traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, or mild traumatic brain injury.

Executive Order 12968, Access to Classified Information states mental health counseling in and of itself is not a reason to revoke or deny a security clearance. Seeking support to address mental health issues demonstrates inner strength and embodies the Warrior Ethos, Army leaders have said.

Professional mental health counseling is not a threat to an individual's security clearance; rather it can be a positive factor in the security clearance process, officials said.

CCF's adjudicative history indicates that 99.98 percent of cases with psychological concerns obtained/retained their security clearance eligibility. Most cases that resulted in a denial or revocation had other issues in addition to psychological concerns.

The current policy provides both adjudicators and commanders flexibility to allow individuals undergoing counseling to maintain their security clearance.

Leadership must make it a priority to educate Soldiers, civilians and contractors that acting responsibly with regard to indebtedness and seeking mental health counseling is a positive course of action and will not result in the denial, loss or suspension of a security clearance, G2 officials said.

Ultimately, the well being and safety of Soldiers, civilians and contractors, especially those in the demobilization process, is of great concern to Army leaders, and personnel must not be discouraged from seeking assistance, Fish said.

Communication from leaders is key, Fish said. He added that Army personnel need to know that their chain of command, fellow Soldiers and coworkers will support their decision to seek the proper help for both mental health and financial concerns.

(Tamara Haire serves with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2.)