Tester, Pingree question Intelligence Director over security clearance reversal
Lawmakers vow to continue fighting to protect survivors of sexual assault
(U.S. CONGRESS) – Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are demanding that the U.S. Director of National Intelligence once again eliminate a requirement that forces survivors of sexual assault in the military to declare whether they sought counseling for sexual trauma when applying for a security clearance.
Tester and Pingree successfully overturned the policy in April after hearing from veterans and service members from Montana and Maine, but the government reversed course in the final version of the security clearance questionnaire released this summer.
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 full access to their health records.
Veterans and veterans’ advocacy groups told Tester and Pingree the policy discouraged qualified service members from applying for important national security positions and discouraged them from getting the counseling they need. The Defense Department estimates that there may have been as many as 26,000 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, with the vast majority of cases reported by women.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider this matter and reinstitute the explicit exemption for survivors of sexual assault,” Tester and Pingree told Intelligence Director James Clapper. “As you recognized in April, we need to do everything we can to support survivors of sexual assault – not keep them from getting the care they need or jeopardizing their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
“Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is grateful to Senator Tester and Congresswoman Pingree for their dedication to ensuring military sexual assault survivors’ careers are not stunted or adversely affected because they sought counseling to cope with the assault,” said Anu Bhagwati, SWAN executive director and former Marine Corps captain. “SWAN has already heard from service members that are confused by the recently removed exemption for military sexual assault survivors and are now hesitant to seek help. We urge Director Clapper to reinstate the explicit exemption for sexual assault survivors.”
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 and Pingree sought a complete policy change.
There are multiple forms of counseling that do not impede an applicant from securing a security clearance, including family counseling and counseling for combat stress.
Tester and Pingree’s letter to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is available below.