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Security clearance questions to be updated

Mar. 22, 2013 - 02:40PM   |  
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The governmentwide form used to apply for security clearances is being updated to relax foreign travel and foreign contact questions for service members, recognize same-sex marriages, and clarify that marijuana use must be reported even if you have resided in a state where use is legal.

What is unclear, however, is whether the revised form, expected to be released this spring, will do anything to resolve the privacy concerns of military rape and sexual assault victims, who are required to report counseling they might have received in connection with such assaults in order to get or keep a security clearance.

Changes will be made in the information that sexual assault victims will be required to report, but “no final determination has been made,” Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said March 21.

It is unclear whether those changes would be completed in time to be part of the revised form released this spring.

In its March 12 notice that Standard Form 86 would soon be revised, the Office of Personnel Management says only that the question dealing with mental health counseling will be changed “for the purpose of clarifying support for mental health treatment and encouraging proactive management of mental health conditions to support wellness and recovery.”

But that does not mean counseling for sexual trauma will be treated the same as counseling for combat-related post-traumatic stress, which is exempt from reporting.

Planned revisions include:

• A specific instruction will clarify that drug use and drug activity must be reported if it violated federal law, even if legal under state or local laws.

• Contacts with foreign governments will not have to be reported if the contact occurred when the applicant was a member of the military on a military duty assignment, and foreign travel that involved crossing a border while on government business also will not have to be reported.

• Questions about relationships will be revised to recognize same-sex marriages and divorces, as well as civil unions or legally recognized domestic partnerships.

Revising the mental health reporting requirements related to sexual trauma has been discussed for several years with no resolution. This has left assault victims concerned about getting and reporting counseling out of fear it may lead to their security clearance being denied — or that it could become common knowledge within their military chain of command if people violate privacy rules and talk about the treatment with other unit members.

“It feels like everything has gone into a black hole,” said an Army officer and sexual assault victim who worries not that she would be denied the top secret clearance she needs for promotion, but “that my chain of command would find out, my privacy would be violated, and I would be viewed as a victim rather than the professional I really am in this male-dominated, occasionally paternalistic culture.”

Only about 2 percent of security clearance denials are for mental health reasons, but the officer, a female, said losing a clearance could not just end a military career, but also hurt in finding post-service employment.

“As I look to the future for retirement, I know there are several government contractor jobs that require a clearance,” she said.

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