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Pingree continues to fight to protect survivors of sexual assault who seek security clearance

Military personnel who survived assaults say exemption is crucial

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) is once again asking the Director of National Intelligence not to force survivors of sexual assault to disclose that they have sought counseling when filling out a security clearance form.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) is once again asking the Director of National Intelligence not to force survivors of sexual assault to disclose that they have sought counseling when filling out a security clearance form.
Military personnel who seek counseling for combat-related PTSD have long been exempted from disclosing such counseling on Question 21 of the Standard Form 86—the questionnaire anyone seeking a security clearance must fill out.  In 2013, Director of National Security James Clapper agreed to Pingree's request that the exemption be extended to survivors of sexual assault.  But the changes were considered provisional while officials considered a complete revision of Question 21.
Pingree wrote to Clapper again last week, after hearing that the final version of the question may actually strip away all exemptions, including the ones for sexual assault, combat-related PTSD and two other exemptions involving counseling for grief after the death of a loved one and marriage counseling.
"I want to express my urgent concern that the counseling exemption for MST survivors included in your interim guidance—that has proven to be so successful and so significant for survivors of rape in the military—is poised for elimination," Pingree wrote.
The fear of having to report counseling that might impact their ability to get a security clearance has stopped many sexual assault survivors from getting the professional help they need.

"As you know, in 2011, 2012, and 2013, I wrote to you urging you to re-evaluate the national security clearance process to better protect service members who wanted to seek counseling for sexual trauma.  This came after hearing from individuals across the country who needed help to heal, but would not seek counseling because of concerns over their security clearances and their desire to still serve.  I, along with MST survivors and advocates across the country, was very pleased with the interim guidance you issued on Question 21 that was released in April 2013," she wrote in her letter to Clapper today.
Sources have told Pingree that the final version of the security questionnaire may first ask applicants if issues related to stress or trauma have ever affected them at work, and if they answer yes, they may then be told to report any counseling they have received. 
In her letter to Clapper, Pingree also shared stories she had received from victims of sexual assault who need a security clearance for their jobs.

“As I look back over the past year, I am again reminded of where I was and how much better I am. My periodic renewal for my secret clearance comes up next year, so as I'm thinking about that, I am yet again flooded with gratitude to you and your staff. Every action I take as a leader, every Soldier I'm able to help, every day I'm able to continue in uniform, I'm grateful. Thank you again--I'm doing so much better these days. If this is the struggle a field grade officer experienced, I can't imagine what younger, lower enlisted Soldiers must go through; you guys are literally lifesavers.” 

And she also shared this communication from a member of the military who feared that Question 21 might once again require them to report counseling for sexual assault: 

“I am a sexual assault survivor in the military.  Last year I went and got help for nightmares from a psychologist when I finally thought it was safe to do so because of the change in Question 21.  My friend…told me that OPM is thinking of changing the form not to exempt this kind of counseling any more. I would really be devastated to think that I put my faith in such a change only to have it changed back.  I know you worked hard on this issue. Can you assure me it will not change back? I am really worried—I’ve heard of people losing positions because it takes so long to get verification after you answer ‘yes’ to Question 21.  This terrifies me.  Why should I have to pay the price for getting counseling for something bad someone else did to me? Why would I be treated like a criminal when all of the messages from DoD are that getting counseling is good?”

Pingree's letter to Director of National Intelligence Clapper is here.

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