An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsArticle Display

Security clearance: understanding question 21

The Standard Form 86 is a 127-page questionnaire for national security positions that individuals must complete to begin a background investigation for access to classified information. One misunderstood question on the form is related to mental health. Question 21 reads: "In the last seven years, have you consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition, or were you hospitalized for such a condition?" The SF 86 form advises answering, ‘no,’ in certain specific situations. According to Frank Vigil, 50th Space Wing Information Protection chief, if a person meets the requirements for answering, “yes,” it is important to know mental health counseling and treatment is not, by itself, a reason for denying a security clearance. (U.S. Air Force graphic by 2nd Lt. Idalí Beltré Acevedo)

The Standard Form 86 is a 127-page questionnaire for national security positions that individuals must complete to begin a background investigation for access to classified information. One misunderstood question on the form is related to mental health. Question 21 reads: "In the last seven years, have you consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition, or were you hospitalized for such a condition?" The SF 86 form advises answering, ‘no,’ in certain specific situations. According to Frank Vigil, 50th Space Wing Information Protection chief, if a person meets the requirements for answering, “yes,” it is important to know mental health counseling and treatment is not, by itself, a reason for denying a security clearance. (U.S. Air Force graphic by 2nd Lt. Idalí Beltré Acevedo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Most Airmen require access to classified information or a security clearance which triggers a background investigation to determine appropriate access to confidential, secret or top secret information.

“The Standard Form 86 (SF 86) is the form you fill out to provide the government information to grant you eligibility to access classified information,” Frank Vigil, 50th Space Wing Information Protection chief said. “This is the basic form all [Defense Department] members fill out to receive a security clearance.”

One question on the form can be confusing or concerning to Airmen who may fear that  understand the question and others may fear that answering “yes” could jeopardize their chances of acquiring a new security clearance or maintaining their current clearance.

“Question number 21 asks you to provide information about your psychological and emotional health,” Vigil said. “This includes questions about mental health counseling or services you may have received.”

Question 21 reads: In the last seven years, have you consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition, or were you hospitalized for such a condition.

According to Vigil there are specific instances when a member should answer “no” to the question.

“The form only requires you to report mental health counseling or assistance if a court or administrative agency has ordered you to consult with a mental health professional,” he said. “If you seek help with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, marriage, relationship issues, or any reason that is not ordered by a court then you answer ‘no.’”  

According to Vigil, a common misconception is that Airmen receiving mental health services won’t acquire or maintain a security clearance.

“Unless the order is from a military court the answer would still be ‘no.’ This includes commander directed evaluations,” he said. “The bottom line is that the DoD is very clear that there should be no stigma attached to seeking mental health counseling or treatment.”

Vigil said individuals who meet the requirements to answer “yes” should not fear being denied a security clearance.

According to a 2013 National Intelligence briefing, only .002 percent of people who answered “yes” to question 21 had an “adverse action” applied to their case.

“It is important to know that mental health counseling and treatment is not, by itself, a reason for denying a security clearance,” Vigil said. “Receiving mental health care may contribute favorably to decisions about your clearance.”

Vigil elaborated on why an investigative process into the members’ mental health is required by the government.

“The government is concerned with a subject’s ability to protect classified information, treatment may help mitigate that concern,” he said. “Ultimately, if there are mental and emotional conditions that a mental health professional determines could impact your ability to protect classified information, there may be an impact to your clearance.”

Douglas Peacock, 50th Space Wing information protection specialist, said it’s important to answer truthfully and a “yes” answer to question 21 is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Central Adjudication Facility, the agency tasked with reviewing the SF 86 and conducting the background investigation.

“Answering the question by saying ‘no’ when it should be a ‘yes’ could be looked upon unfavorably by the CAF as an attempt by the member to be misleading,” he said. “This could risk the ability to maintain their security clearance based on the issue of trustworthiness. It’s always best to answer all questions honestly and fully.”

Airmen with concerns or questions may contact unit security assistants or the 50th SW Information Security office at 567-5680.

Previous Story
Next Story