Director of National Intelligence Issues Security Clearance Change for Military Sexual Assault Survivors Seeking Counseling

Press Release from Service Women’s Action Network

WASHINGTON, DC – James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, today issued new guidance to support victims of sexual assault who hold or wish to hold a government security clearance, but may be reluctant to seek mental health counseling for fear they may have to disclose the counseling on their application. Service Women’s Action Network has worked closely with Director Clapper’s office during this process.

The new guidance applies to all executive branch departments and agencies.

“This change is a huge victory for survivors of military sexual assault,” said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network and former Marine Corps Captain. “From numerous calls we receive on our Helpline, we know that Question 21 has kept survivors from seeking the critical mental health services they have needed to heal in the aftermath of sexual assault. We applaud Director Clapper and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for making this sensible correction to an unjust protocol that served to further traumatize survivors, and will keep a close eye on implementation of this change.”

The new guidance allows victims of sexual assault to answer “No” to Question 21 on the Standard Form 86, “Questionnaire for National Security Positions,” which asks if applicants have consulted a health care professional or were hospitalized regarding an emotional or mental health condition in the past seven years. Previously, the only exemptions were for family, grief and marital counseling unrelated to violence, and counseling for post-military combat service.

The following language will be added to Question 21.2:

“Please respond to this question with the following additional instruction: Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault are instructed to answer No.”

Director Clapper offered praise to Service Women’s Action Network, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and Senator Tester for bringing the needs and concerns of survivors of military sexual assault to the office, calling this advocacy “integral to the process” of changing Question 21.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas had written to Clapper again last month, asking again for a modification to the question. Pingree said the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) has also been a key player in the push to get the question changed.

“My colleagues—Congresswoman Tsongas and Senator Tester—and the folks at SWAN have been critical in getting the Director of National Security to change question 21,” said Congresswoman Pingree.

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