Watch this page for updates on changing the intelligence questionnaire to accomodate surivivors of military sexual trauma
Since 2011, I've worked to change Question 21 on the security clearance questionnaire form, which asks applicants to disclose mental health counseling they have received. While service members who've received counseling for combat-related PTSD have been allowed to say "no", survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) were not exempted. The result is that many have not sought counseling for fear of being turned down for intelligence positions. After many back and forths with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, I'm glad to see this question rewritten to address these concerns, offer flexibility around reporting, and remove the stigma against getting needed assistance. I'm hopeful that the change will allow survivors of military sexual assault to seek help without fearing that their careers will be jeopardized.
November 21, 2016: Pingree touts revised Question 21 as significant improvement over original
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.” Read more here ...
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. Read more...
June 14, 2013: Pingree's Question 21 amendment included in National Defense Authorization Act, passes House
The amendment forces the military to inform personnel that they do not need to answer Question 21--which asks about counseling an applicant has received--on the security clearance questionnaire. The question has kept many sexual assault survivors from seeking counseling. More on the amendment below.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced an amendment today to a major defense bill that would instruct the Pentagon to inform military personnel that they don't have to report counseling for sexual assault whenapplying for or renewing a security clearance.
Pingree said she's heard from military personnel around the country and overseas who say they don't seek counseling after a sexual assault because they knew they would have to disclose it on the national security questionnaire. Pingree pushed for a change in policy that would allow those survivors not to disclose the counseling.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said today that the Director of National Intelligence has agreed to her request to change a national security questionnaire to protect victims of military sexual assault.
Pingree first wrote to Director of National Intelligence (DNI)James Clapper in November of 2011 about Question 21 on the questionnaire, which asks applicants if they have ever received counseling. Currently, military personnel who have received treatment for combat-related PTSD can answer "no." Pingree asked Clapper to create the same exemption for victims of sexual assault in the military.
"Requiring victims of sexual assault to declare that they've been receiving counseling on this questionnaire has been discouraging them from getting the treatment they need. I'm glad that DNI Clapper has listened to our concerns," Pingree said.
"I would like to thank Congresswoman Pingree for her oversight and support of victims of sexual assault who may benefit from mental health treatment, but may not have otherwise sought treatment out of concern for their career or security clearance," said Director Clapper. "Through our efforts, victims of sexual assault will be encouraged to seek the mental health services they may needwhile feeling safe that their privacy protections are strictly enforced."
Pingree said she regularly hears from active duty personnel around the world who have suffered a military sexual assault but are not getting the counseling they need because they don't want to reveal it on the security questionnaire.
"A security clearance is critical to many military careers and having to reveal counseling for sexual assault forces personnel to feellike they have to choose between their mental health and their careers," Pingree said.
Pingree and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas wrote 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 Intelligence to change Question 21."
February 1, 2013: Pingree presses Director of National Intelligence on Question 21
Today Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to press for changes to the intelligence questionnaire form to help survivors of military sexual trauma. Specifically, the letter asks for the status of possible interim guidance that would allow MST survivors to say no on Question 21, which asks about prior counseling. The question prevents many veterans from seeking counseling for fear that it would prevent them from getting intelligence positions.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said today she was glad that James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, has agreed to rewrite part of a security clearance questionnaire relating to mental health counseling. Question 21 on the form asks applicants if they have ever received counseling. Currently, military personnel who have received treatment for combat-related PTSD can answer "no." Pingree asked Clapper to create the same exemption for victims of sexual assault in the military.
"Requiring victims of sexual assault to declare that they've been receiving counseling on this questionnaire discourages them from getting the treatment they need. I'm glad that DNI Clapper has listened to our concerns and has agreed to rewrite Question 21, but I'm going to withhold final judgment until I've seen the new wording," Pingree said.
Pingree talked to Clapper about the issue last month and in a letter to Pingree, hesaid after further internal discussions, he has decided to completely rework the question instead of simply creating another exemption.
Currently Question 21 on Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, reads: "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?"
"Asking victims of sexual assault to reveal counseling on this form causes a number of problems," Pingree said. "First of all, it can open up further questioning and even an investigation about the assault, which can reopen some painful wounds. But there is an even more significant problem: a lot of the time getting a security clearance is necessary for career advancement in the military. If a victim thinks getting counseling for sexual assault is going to jeopardize that clearance, they're less likely to go out and get the counseling they need."
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has asked the Director of National Intelligence to change the questionnaire used when granting security clearances. In a letter to General James Clapper, Pingree said victims of military sexual trauma who have received counseling should not have to disclose that in the questionnaire.
"Many victims of sexual assault in the military don't seek counseling because they are afraid it will make them ineligible for the security clearances they need to advance in their career," Pingree said. "Victims of military sexual trauma shouldn't be punished for being a victim of a horrible crime."
In 2008, the questionnaire was changed so that military personnel suffering from combat-related PTSD no longer have to disclose counseling related to treatment, and Pingree says it's only fair to extend that protection to victims of sexual assault.
"That policy change was an attempt to reduce the stigma attached to mental health counseling and the perception that it could threaten a career. While I am pleased that the question was changed regarding combat veterans, a large population of military members and veterans were excluded — victims of military sexual assault," Pingree wrote to Clapper.
Pingree has been fighting for the rights of men and women who are victims of sexual assault while in uniform, and has urged the Obama Administration to lower standards of proof for victims when applying for benefits.