Past Mental Health Treatment May be Less Scrutinized by the Military
> 6/28/2007 10:48:21 AM

59% of U.S. soldiers believe that they would be treated differently by their commanders if they sought help for mental problems. This is troubling enough, but the fact that soldiers with indicators of mental illness are twice as likely to fear stigmatization means that the military has a serious obstacle in the way of adequately caring for all of its personnel.

The Pentagon is now considering removing a particularly large obstacle standing between soldiers and therapists- the requirement that applicants for security clearance divulge all of the mental health treatment that they have received. Air Force Major Patrick Ryder spoke to the Associated Press to play down the role of past treatment in security judgments, claiming that less than .05% of applicants were rejected for this reason by itself. Without full access to Pentagon documents, we cannot dispute  Ryder's statistic, but our investigation did find a level of scrutiny during evaluations that could give soldiers legitimate fear of speaking to mental health professionals.

There are a number of released documents indicating that past therapy can become the central issue in security hearings. For example, here is a 12 page report focusing entirely on the issue of whether an applicantís past addiction treatment was effective.

Criterion J security concerns relate to... an individualís having been diagnosed by a psychiatrist or licensed clinical psychologist as alcohol dependent or as suffering from alcohol abuse....

The individual stated that in September 2003 he came to the conclusion that he was experiencing serious psychological difficulties and sought help from his supervisor, and the staff psychologist. At the time, he was drinking alcohol very heavily to self-medicate.

The report discusses minute details about the successes and stumbles of treatment, including every relapse and even speculation about the behavior being motivated by a desire to self-medicate for bipolar disorder. It examines the testimony of everyone from a psychologist he consulted at his previous job, his therapist, his AA sponsor, his wife, his supervisor, and a co-worker. Ultimately, the applicant is denied security clearance, not for a falsehood he told in a previous interview but solely because of his diagnosis of alcoholism.

This sort of inquisition encourages those with mental illness to hide their problems. If the unfortunate applicant discussed above had continued to drink in secret and never sought help, he would have had a much better chance of getting clearance. It is understandable that the military does not want to share its secrets with unstable people, but a psychological evaluation of current problems should be sufficient. If government employees know that every word they say to a therapist can show up later in an investigation, they will be afraid of opening up enough to receive the healing that they need.

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