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Pingree touts revised Question 21 as significant improvement over original

New security clearance question addresses many concerns of survivors of military sexual trauma who have not sought counseling for fear of jeopardizing their careers

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree today welcomed a newly finalized Question 21 on the national security clearance form that will address key concerns of sexual assault survivors.  In addition, she applauds a policy reversal that aims to remove the long-standing stigma—and risk to one’s clearance—associated with seeking mental health care for personal wellness and recovery. 

In a back-and-forth that has gone on since 2011, Pingree has pushed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to change the question to offer relief to sexual assault survivors who wouldn’t seek counseling for fear of having their clearance rejected. His office advised her of the change the day before his resignation was announced earlier last week.

“Getting this question changed has been a very long process, but I think the finished product will allow service members—and indeed, any survivor of sexual assault with a security clearance—to feel more comfortable getting the counseling they need,” said Pingree.  “The form clearly states that seeking counseling is not a reason to revoke or deny a clearance. It allows survivors to forgo reporting counseling for their assaults if they feel their condition has not severely affected their judgment.  And it is more fair in treating the effects of combat and sexual assault in the same way.”

Originally, Question 21, which deals with psychological and emotional health, asked, "In the last 7 years, have you consulted with a mental health professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, etc.) or have you consulted with another health care provider about a mental health related condition?"  

Among several other questions, the form now asks if an individual has a mental health condition that “substantially adversely affects your judgment, reliability or trustworthiness?” The form goes on to clarify that those in counseling may answer “no” if they feel that their condition does not affect their judgment.  It lists both combat service and sexual assault as possible examples of such circumstances. You can read the question in full here, as well as an explantion from DNI Clapper

“I think the newly written question offers flexibility, assurance, and equity that was not there before. This effort required extensive collaboration among federal agencies, and the resultant changes put the focus where it belongs—on an assessment of each individual’s capacity to protect our national security interests,” said Pingree.  “I am grateful that the women and men who reach out to my office every day no longer have to fear risking their careers by being proactive with their trauma recovery. ”   

Background on Question 21 changes

Beginning in 2008, service members whose conditions stemmed from combat were exempted from having to report their counseling.  Such an exemption did not extend to those who were sexually assaulted during their service. 

As Pingree became nationally known for her work to make it easier for survivors of military sexual trauma to receive disability benefits, she heard from many survivors who were not seeking counseling because they feared disclosing it would keep them from getting the security clearance they needed to be hired or promoted. 

Pingree first wrote to Clapper in 2011, requesting that the combat exemption be extended to survivors of military sexual assault.  In 2012, Clapper agreed to rewrite the question.  Joined by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, Pingree continued to push Clapper to move quickly on the issue and interim guidance was released in 2013 allowing sexual assault survivors to answer “no” on the question.  In the years since then, they have urged the agency to adopt a more permanent solution.

Details on this process can be found here

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