Civilian, military, and contract personnel seeking sensitive positions in the Federal Government are required to complete the Standard Form 86 (SF86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions, as part of their initial applications and then periodically throughout their careers.
Due to concerns about completing the SF86 regarding an employee’s mental health history, many employees may choose not to seek psychological help out of fear of jeopardizing their security clearance eligibility, duty position, and career.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recognizes the critical importance of mental health and advocates proactive management to support the wellness and recovery of CBP employees. Mental health treatment and counseling, in and of itself, is not a reason to revoke or deny eligibility for access to classified information or to occupy a sensitive position.
CBP would like to address the misconceptions about seeking treatment for mental health related issues in an effort to reduce the stigma of seeking timely, appropriate health care to build a more resilient workforce for the future.
MYTH: REPORTING INFORMATION ABOUT MY MENTAL HEALTH WILL NEGATIVELY IMPACT MY EMPLOYMENT AT CBP.
FACT: Seeking professional care for mental health issues is a positive course of action to take when you recognize a problem may exist and demonstrate a willingness to take steps towards resolving it. CBP is concerned about psychological conditions that substantially adversely affect your judgment, reliability, and trustworthiness along with your ability to perform in a position of public trust, eligibility to occupy a national security designation position, or properly safeguard classified or sensitive information. Providing treatment information and a treating physician’s recommendation demonstrates truthfulness and reliability and is one of the ways in which the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) may mitigate concerns about your mental health.
MYTH: IF I SEEK TREATMENT, I COULD BE STIGMATIZED AND VIEWED AS UNRELIABLE OR UNABLE TO DO MY JOB.
FACT: Seeking mental health treatment is not a reason, in and of itself, to deny suitability for a public trust position, eligibility for a security clearance, or eligibility for continued employment in a sensitive position. Providing truthful information is considered evidence of your reliability and a willingness to fulfill personal responsibilities. Seeking or receiving mental health care for personal wellness and recovery may contribute favorably to decisions about your eligibility. At CBP, we believe asking for help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.
MYTH: I DO NOT HAVE TO LIST MENTAL HEALTH INFORMATION ON THE SF86 BECAUSE IT IS PRIVATE.
FACT: Section 21 (Psychological and Emotional Health) of the SF86 requires applicants and employees to provide information about current or prior mental health treatment under the following circumstances:
- If a court or administrative agency has ever declared you mentally incompetent.
- If a court or administrative agency has ever ordered you to consult with a mental health professional.
- If you have ever been hospitalized for a mental health condition.
- If you have ever been diagnosed by a physician or other health care professional with certain identified mental health conditions.
- If you have a mental health or other health condition that substantially adversely affects your judgement, reliability, or trustworthiness (you may disclose such treatment or counseling for that condition but are not required to do so).
Honesty and acknowledgement of all information provided is expected in order to make a sound adjudicative determination.
MYTH: IF I LIST MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT ON THE SF86, THE BACKGROUND INVESTIGATOR WILL TELL MY SUPERVISOR.
FACT: All information pertaining to treatment shall be handled on a strict need-to-know basis and any misuse of the provided information by investigators, adjudicators or other personnel is punishable under applicable regulations, policies and privacy laws. Further, investigators must adhere to a strict protocol-they are not authorized to report any information collected during the background investigation to an employee’s supervisor.
MYTH: I LISTED MY MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT. I WAS COMPLETELY HONEST WITH MY INVESTIGATOR SO THERE’S NO NEED FOR MY DOCTOR TO BE CONTACTED.
FACT: If you responded “yes” to questions 21 A through E, based on the terms of the medical release signed by all applicants during the hiring process, an investigator may ask your health care professional about condition(s) that could substantially adversely affect your judgement, reliability, and the ability to, occupy a national security designated position, or the ability to properly safeguard classified or sensitive information. Such an opinion, must be rendered by a duly qualified medical practitioner. Even if you provide all the required information investigators must still follow up with your treatment provider as a requirement of the investigative process. The investigator will conduct an in-person interview and document the information in the Report of Investigation (ROI). This report will be sent to the adjudicator and added to the subject’s file to make a determination using the “whole-person” concept, taking all information about a subject into consideration.
MYTH: IF I GO TO FAMILY COUNSELING WITH MY SPOUSE, THIS COULD AFFECT MY JOB STATUS.
FACT: Section 21 of the SF86 does not require applicants or employees to disclose involvement in any counseling unless such counseling was received as part of an affirmative response to questions 21 A through E.
MYTH: IF THIS INFORMATION GETS BACK TO MY SUPERVISOR, I WILL BE TREATED DIFFERENTLY OR WILL BE MONITORED.
FACT: The information OPR gathers is protected by privacy laws. This information is used to enhance the integrity, efficiency, and national security of the Federal Government and any misuse of the provided information by investigators, adjudicators or other personnel is punishable under applicable regulations, policies and privacy laws. Further, investigators must adhere to a strict protocol and are not authorized to report any information collected during the background investigation to an employee’s supervisor.
MYTH: IF MY CLEARANCE IS SUSPENDED IT WILL MEAN THE END OF MY CAREER.
FACT: Suspension of a clearance is a step taken to ensure the protection of national security information. It is done at a time of active crisis phase of a psychological condition and reduces the risk of improper disclosure while the situation is being assessed. During the period of a clearance suspension it could require personnel to be temporarily reassigned to a position with less sensitive access and duties. Many times clearances are reinstated once all information is reviewed. In fact, over 99% of individuals in DHS with psychological conditions obtain or retain their security clearance. According to a DHS review of approximately 11,000 background investigations in FY15, only 0.2% of security clearances were denied or revoked due to Psychological Conditions.
However, there are instances where a clearance is subsequently revoked. All revocations involve due process for the individual. Only a portion of CBP employees hold a clearance. A clearance revocation could result in removal, depending on the action precipitating the revocation, and could potentially impact the employee’s duty position. However, a clearance revocation based solely on a mental health condition is rare. In the last five years CBP has not revoked a clearance based solely on mental health conditions or treatment.
SEEKING HELP IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH AND HELP IS ALWAYS AVAILABLE.
For confidential support, contact the Employee Assistance Program at: 1-800-755-7002