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    DCSA Behavioral Science Branch Effectively Destigmatizing Mental Health Counseling, Treatment

    DCSA Official Press Release

    Photo By Christopher Gillis | DCSA Official Press Release read more read more

    A new specialty adjudicative branch of the DCSA Consolidated Adjudications Service (CAS) focusing in behavioral science is expediting security clearance adjudications, as the agency continues its campaign to destigmatize mental health counseling and treatment in relation to the adjudication of national security clearances.

    The new Behavioral Science Branch – featuring specialists, including eight adjudicators skilled in considering psychological related issues – was a topic of a discussion at a recent Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) webinar, entitled, ‘Fact and Fiction: Intelligence and National Security Careers, Mental Health and Clearances.’

    “We have adjudicators who provide the actual national security recommendation,” said Dr. Michael Priester, DCSA CAS chief psychologist, regarding the branch, which serves as the interface between mental health issues and the adjudication of security clearances. “It’s very exciting to have a branch that integrates psychologists and adjudicators to handle sensitive and complex cases.”

    The Behavioral Science Branch adjudicators – expert in either military, business, science or psychological matters – review cases that primarily involve ‘Adjudicative Guideline I: Psychological Issues’ and co-occurring ‘Guideline G: Alcohol Consumption’ as well as ‘Guideline H: Drug involvement and Substance Misuse matters.

    In addition to the INSA dialogue, during a webinar sponsored by the Center for Development of Security Excellence (CDSE) entitled, ‘Mental Health and Your Security Clearance Eligibility’ held in January, Priester emphasized the impact of DOD’s Trusted Workforce and Continuous Vetting capabilities. These two programs enable early intervention where psychological issues may be present in order to ensure the individual receives appropriate treatment before it mushrooms into bigger problems later and becomes a potential cognizant security concern.

    “Mental health stigma persists despite significant efforts to assure that cleared individuals and candidates seeking mental health care itself is seen as favorable – not derogatory – during the vetting process,” said Marianna Martineau, DCSA CAS principal deputy assistant director. “There have been many initiatives supported by DOD to encourage personnel to seek mental health care whenever needed .”

    Moreover, the DCSA CAS actively partners with military commands, cleared federal agencies and civilian contractors in an ongoing and collaborative destigmatization campaign focused on busting myths regarding mental health care and treatment.

    “The myth busting will be accomplished from basic training or entry to employment and onward,” said Martineau. “Commands, agencies and employers need to encourage individuals to seek mental health care whenever needed. We need to equate mental health with physical health and ensure there’s no stigmatizing language in policies or in practice that would discourage employees from seeking care or implying that those with mental health conditions are necessarily unfit or untrustworthy.”

    A detailed analysis of denial and revocation statistics involving psychological conditions clearly demonstrates that a cleared individual is not likely to lose or fail to gain clearance eligibility after seeking mental health care or experiencing mental health symptoms.

    Specifically, DCSA CAS analyzed 5.4 million adjudicative actions from 2012-2020 and discovered that 97,000 cases dealt with psychological-related issues. Of those cases, only 62 were denied or revoked for psychological concerns, which equates to 0.00115% of the total adjudicative actions.

    “None of the cases were denied or revoked just for seeking mental health care,” said Dr. Elisabeth Jean-Jacques, DCSA CAS Behavioral Science Branch psychologist. “Most denials or revocations are for multiple adjudicative guidelines, such as personal conduct, financial considerations, alcohol consumption or criminal conduct.”

    Other factors – non-adherence to medical recommendations or simply not seeking care in the face of a clear need for mental health support – were considered more concerning issues.

    “The data is clear – losing or failing to gain your clearance eligibility for a psychological condition alone is extremely rare, said Priester. “Even in combination with other issues, it is still rare to lose one’s clearance eligibility. Most of the individuals who lost or did not gain eligibility had a variety of issues involved in the case, sometimes as many as six guidelines were cited. Showing poor candor about reporting known psychological conditions raised much more of a security concern, and often led to personal conduct concerns.”

    Despite the myth-busting data and the agency’s Mental Health De-Stigmatization Campaign, studies reveal that a false belief exists among some security managers that seeking mental health treatment could result in security clearance denial or revocation.

    “If that positive step to seek mental health counseling or treatment is not taken in relation to some of the cases involving multiple guideline issues, it is probable that the untreated psychological conditions exacerbate other issues or made them worse,” said Priester. “For example, someone with an untreated bi-polar condition may go into a manic episode and engage in excessive spending which could lead to financial concerns because the condition was untreated. Another example would be an individual who is experiencing depression, anxiety or other common mental health issues but instead of seeking treatment, she or he ‘self-medicates’ by overindulging in alcohol and consequently receives a DUI. In both of these cases, if the individual were to seek treatment, that would raise few if any security concerns, but by failing to seek treatment, a much graver security issue would arise.”

    DCSA CAS considers their training of adjudicators to destigmatize mental health as vital as the agency applies a “whole person” approach rather than focusing on one incident. “The determination requires team collaboration, supervisory reviews and quality assurance reviews to ensure best informed adjudicative decision has been made,” said Jean-Jacques, adding that subject matter experts – general counsel, insider threat experts as well as psychologists – are on staff for consultation as needed.

    Although research shows that stigmas related to mental health treatment have decreased in recent years, the stigma remains a notable challenge – particularly among military members. Many service members do not seek care for mental health symptoms due to reasons such as personal beliefs about self-reliance, concerns about how their supervisors and co-workers may react, and availability of mental health care, according to a RAND study.

    “We are further along than we ever have been but we have a big mountain to climb in terms of further destigmatization,” said Priester. “There will always be hesitancy among some people to seek help, particularly in the cleared population who tend to be fairly self-reliant individuals and reluctant to admit they need assistance in any way.”

    Early in the CDSE webinar, Martineau, Priester, Jean-Jacques and Jessica Belschner, DCSA Behavioral and Science Branch technical lead, conducted a flash poll. Priester read the true or false statements to the virtual audience regarding psychological conditions and adjudications.

    The first question: “There are some psychological conditions that will automatically disqualify you from getting or keeping a security clearance.”

    The poll results showed that 75% of the audience believed that was a true statement.

    “Hopefully, we can debunk that myth throughout the rest of the presentation – the correct answer is false,” said Priester, emphasizing that there are no psychological conditions that will automatically disqualify you from getting or keeping a security clearance.

    The second question: “If a covered individual reports to you that since they last filled out their SF-86, they have been voluntarily hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, this information should be reported to DCSA CAS.”

    The poll results showed that 83% of the audience believed that was a true statement. The correct answer is true, said the Behavioral Sciences Branch chief, adding that it is a requirement to report voluntary or involuntary inpatient treatment.

    Martineau, Priester, Jean-Jacques and Belschner also discussed the risks involved with avoiding mental health care.

    The consequences include decreased force readiness – untreated psychological conditions can increase other physical health issues, negatively impacting a cleared individual’s ability to deploy or perform their job; Increased suicide risks – mental health care is one of the primary protective factors against suicide; and increased security concerns – performing sensitive national security duties while overly burdened by emotional issues could lead to impaired decision making and therefore pose a security risk.

    “We can and should shape how the national security workforce perceives mental health care and our commitment to their wellness,” said Martineau. “Employee wellness is a state of well-being that
    includes their mental and physical health and that wellness is important to the resiliency of our national security workforce – getting help is important when it’s needed. We are striving to ensure that our workforce understands that their wellness is important and this requires active engagement at all levels from first line supervisors to security managers to executive leadership. We all must collectively be armed with the information and it’s crucial that support mechanisms are available to employees.”

    The DCSA CAS psychologists provide training and education to stakeholders regarding its destigmatizing efforts, and has conducted numerous outreach events, to include webinars, presentations, and posting products on the agency external website, For more information or if you have a question, send an email to:



    Date Taken: 10.04.2022
    Date Posted: 10.04.2022 07:43
    Story ID: 430661
    Location: US

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