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In the BLOG

Mental illness and security clearances

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  In the federal workforce, there is still a tremendous stigma around mental illness.  As a result, many federal employees and contractors don’t get the medical treatment they need because they’re afraid it will impact their security clearance.  However, emotional, mental, and personality disorders should only prevent you from getting a clearance if your condition affects your judgment, stability, or reliability, or otherwise prevents a security risk.

Can I get a security clearance if I have a mental illness?

When deciding whether someone with a history of mental illness is eligible for a security clearance, the government will consider many factors, including:

  • A mental health professional’s opinion that your condition or treatment indicates an issue with your judgment, reliability, or stability
  • Failure to follow appropriate medical advice relating to your condition (e.g., refusal to take prescription medication)
  • A history of risky, irresponsible, aggressive, anti-social, or unstable behavior
  • Current behavior that indicates you have poor judgment or are unreliable

However, the following considerations may mitigate security concerns about a mental illness:

  • You do not have a current problem
  • A mental health professional’s recent opinion that your condition is cured, under control, and/or unlikely to recur
  • Past mental instability was temporary (e.g., illness was related to the death of a loved one, short-term illness, end of a marriage) and has been resolved

Do I have to tell the agency about my mental illness?

If you have a clearance, you must inform your security office of issues that could cause a security risk.  Therefore, you may need to notify your agency that you’re receiving mental health treatment.  The fact that you voluntarily reported your condition and treatment should be a mitigating factor if your clearance is called into question.  If you’re seeing a counselor as a result of whistleblower retaliation of workplace discrimination, you should tell your security office.

Getting appropriate medical treatment when you need it may prevent a mental illness from developing into a security concern.  But remember, doctor-patient confidentiality isn’t an exception to your obligation to protect classified information.  It’s illegal to disclose classified information to your health care provider.

How can an attorney help me appeal a security clearance determination?

If you’re concerned that your mental illness will impact your security clearance, it may be helpful to consult an employment attorney.  An experienced employment attorney can advise you about whether you need to disclose a mental health issue to your agency, what evidence you need to show that your mental condition doesn’t cause a security concern, and whether you should seek counseling through EAP.

If you received a Letter of Intent to deny, suspend, or revoke your clearance, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help.  Our attorneys will work with you to respond to the charges against you and gather evidence of mitigating conditions.  We represent federal government employees and contractors in matters involving denial, revocation, and suspension of security clearances.

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