NEWS + ADVICE
Can My Mental Health Disqualify Me from Holding a Security Clearance?
When the government grants someone a security clearance, they are demonstrating a tremendous amount of trust in that individual. The government must know that one has sound judgement and can be reliable in the workplace, especially when handling sensitive or classified information. It is hard to disagree with this requirement.
With that being said, nobody is perfect. Many individuals have certain diagnoses or mental health conditions that have symptoms that may not align precisely with the ideal clearance holder. As many understand, just because you are diagnosed with a certain condition, doesn’t mean you are not able to manage the condition.
If you are asked to be psychologically evaluated by a government psychologist or mental health professional, then they are likely looking to see:
- If you have a mental health condition
- If that condition makes you less reliable or trustworthy in the context of national security
It is often more beneficial to obtain your own evaluation from a trusted expert with experience in the field. Your attorney can refer you to a trusted expert.
Guideline I: Psychological Conditions
Guideline I of the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines addresses Psychological Conditions and the potential concerns they pose for clearance holders. An individual’s emotional, mental, or personal disorder may pose some sort of threat to their social and occupational function, which in turn could raise a security concern and lead to the revocation, denial or suspension of an individual’s security clearance.
Some common examples of disorders that may lead to government concerns include bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and other adjustment disorders. However, while there are many indicators that may concern the government, there are many ways to mitigate those concerns, and knowing how to indicate that you’re of sound emotional and mental health can be the difference between keeping your clearance and losing your career.
How Your Mental Health Gets on the Government’s Radar
One of the most common triggers of a Guideline I concern is an opinion from a medical health professional indicating a mental health diagnosis or that an individual’s condition or treatment may pose a threat to their reliability or stability. These can arise from workplace incidents or voluntary disclosures. As a result, Guideline I becomes a relevant consideration.
However, this is not to say that the government will automatically become concerned if an individual is open to or seeks to treat their mental health issue. In fact, it’s supposed to be the opposite.
Over the last few years, the stigma surrounding mental health issues and treatment has greatly diminished and many clearance holders have begun to seek out and address their own issues. Any clearance hopeful or holder should understand that the issue is generally not only about whether a condition exists, but rather whether it is treated, managed and under control. This is typically the evaluation that the government psychologist or mental health professional will be conducting. There are several ways to respond.
What You Can Do
One way to respond is to get a recent opinion from a medical health professional indicating that your emotional and mental health is under control and that any issues related to a holder’s trustworthiness and reliability have an unlikely chance to happen again or get worse.
This mental health professional should clearly articulate that you are receiving counseling or treatment, have a favorable prognosis based on that treatment and that you are complying with the recommendations that were given. Security clearance attorneys have relationships with multiple mental health professionals who are experts in this field, and we can make referrals on your behalf.
Another way to mitigate concerns could be to explain the circumstances giving rise to a temporary condition. Explaining the circumstances around past emotional instabilities might be a good way to convince the government that these issues were a temporary condition and that it is no longer an issue.
An example of this might be a death in the family or a traumatizing experience. If an individual can prove that whatever was indicated is no longer an issue or is being treated properly, they have a better shot at mitigating the government’s concerns and keeping their clearance.
Real-World Guideline I Outcome
Let’s take a look at a Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals case involving Guideline I, to see an example of how psychological conditions can impact security clearance eligibility.
Case No. 18-02540
The applicant in this case is a 53-year-old Mission Systems Engineer. After applying for a security clearance, he was issued a Statement of Reasons (SOR) due to Guideline I security concerns. His history of psychological conditions goes back to 1985, when he joined the Army after his high school graduation. He was discharged before completing his initial training for “failure to adapt” and spent the next six years homeless. During that time, he abused drugs and was voluntarily admitted several times to a psychiatric hospital unit for mental health treatment. He also spent a year at a residential facility for adults with mental illness, where he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
By the early 2000s he was living in Federally subsidized Section 8 rental housing and held various short-term temp jobs. His drug abuse stopped when he obtained the Section 8 housing, he entered graduate school, and continued to pursue mental health treatment. In 2010 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by his treating psychiatric nurse practitioner. He continued successful treatment until 2013, when his master’s degree, and then his Ph.D. program, prevented his regular attendance.
The applicant left school in 2014 for his current job, which would require applying for a security clearance. He had concerns psychological issues may be raised in the process, but his nurse practitioner assured him his mental health was under good control.
While the applicant has a lengthy history of diagnosed behavioral and mental health problems, he also has a record of seeking and benefitting from mental health treatment. By the time he began work with his current employer, he found no need for ongoing treatment, but resumed treatment due to the concerns alleged in the SOR. The psychiatrist who treats him reports there is no indication of a current problem, outside of anxiety over potentially losing his job should he not receive a clearance.
The judge found the applicant to be a mature person who overcame severe problems he experienced during the 1980s and 1990s. The applicant demonstrated rehabilitation and more than six years of successful employment. The likelihood of recurrence was found to be minimal due to his ongoing participation in psychiatric treatment, and national security eligibility was granted.1
Protect Your Cleared Career
Guideline I is one of the more contested adjudicative guidelines as mental health issues have risen to the forefront of medical and personal health conversations in recent years. It is essential to know that the government will still continue to express their concerns over an individual’s psychological condition; however, knowing how to mitigate those concerns and advocate for yourself can be the difference between keeping your career and losing your clearance.
Find more articles about safeguarding your security clearance here.
Marc T. Napolitana, is an Associate with Tully Rinckey PLLC, where he practices in support of clients needing representation in Military Law and National Security Law. Marc possesses years of experience representing military personnel, federal employees, aspiring military service members (i.e. ROTC students), and security clearance applicants in a variety of legal forums. He can be reached at (888) 529-4543 or [email protected].