Tester wins security clearance reversal to protect survivors of sexual assault

Government will no longer force applicants to disclose counseling for sexual trauma

(U.S. SENATE) – Thanks to Senator Jon Tester, veterans who survived a sexual assault while in the military will no longer have to declare whether they sought counseling for sexual trauma when applying for a security clearance.

Tester took an active role overturning the government policy after hearing from women veterans across Montana. Before the change, job applicants seeking a security clearance had to list whether they had received mental health counseling as a result of a sexual assault, and if so, allow an investigator access to their health records.

Women veterans and veterans’ advocacy groups told Tester the policy discouraged qualified service members from applying for important national security positions and discouraged them from getting the counseling they need. Studies show that more than 20 percent of servicewomen are sexually assaulted while serving in the military.

“Service Women’s Action Network is grateful to Senator Tester for his dedication to survivors of military sexual violence and his pursuit of this urgent change to the security clearance question,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of SWAN and a former Marine Corps Captain. “Not only did Senator Tester push for this much-needed reform, his office also provided support to constituents grappling with the harm previously caused by Question 21.”

Tester first contacted then-Defense Department Secretary Leon Panetta and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the issue last year. The officials responded by altering the security clearance questionnaire to better handle sensitive information, but Tester sought a complete policy change.

“The previous policy was a violation of privacy and prevented America’s best from serving our country,” Tester said. “We need to do everything we can to support survivors of sexual assault – not keep them from getting the care they need or gaining a security clearance. This change was long overdue, and I was proud to fight for it.”

Treatment for sexual assault now joins other forms of counseling that will not impede an applicant from securing a security clearance, including family counseling and counseling for combat stress.

There were as many as 19,000 instances of sexual assault in the military in 2010. While most assaults occur against women, men are affected as well.

Tester is Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.