Can seeing a psychologist put your security clearance at risk?

Tuesday - 12/28/2010, 10:14am EST

John Mahoney, Partner, Tully Rinckey

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Can getting counseling for the holidays blues affect your security clearance?

"The answer is, It all depends," said John Mahoney, a partner at the Tully Rinckey law firm with experience in the world security clearance, in an interview with the Federal Drive.

Executive Order 12968 and DoD regulation 5200 define the guidelines for issuing security clearances, Mahoney said.

If someone has a diagnosable condition, it "could put the security clearance at risk," he said.

"There's a security concern that the government recognizes if people have certain emotional, mental or personal conditions that can impair their judgment, their reliability or their trustworthiness," Mahoney said.

However, Mahoney said for "run-of-the-mill" emotional distress, depression or conditions that don't raise issues about a person's reliability, federal employees and contractors should seek voluntary mental health counseling or treatment. In fact, the guidelines encourage such people to seek help so it's more likely they can maintain their security clearance, he said.

Currently the government knows about a person's mental health through voluntary information provided through Standard Form 85 or 86, Mahoney said. Applicants are asked if they are currently seeking psychiatric care and if they have ever been diagnosed with a psychological condition, Mahoney said.

A federal employee or contractor who loses their clearance has the right to appeal any decision made by the Central Adjudication Facility, which makes "specialized determinations" about granting security clearances, he said.

Generally, employees should "feel free" to seek mental health counseling and treatment and not worry that it will impact their ability to hold a clearance or to stay employed at their job, Mahoney said.

"The threat is that some federal agencies or some federal managers will hold this over the employees' head," Mahoney said. "The message I want to get out is, that's not necessarily true."