Will my psychiatric health history show up in a background check?
August 4, 2011 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Will a stay in the psychiatric ward of a hospital for depression and a following dual diagnosis treatment program turn up on an army Top Secret security clearance background check, or is that information still private under HIPAA?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know for sure, but if it's you that's applying for this clearance I'll bet they notice your MetaFilter posting history... can you ask the mods to anonymize?
posted by olinerd at 1:53 PM on August 4, 2011

Almost certainly. Moreover, you'll be ask to disclose this up-front. And you definitely don't want to lie.
posted by wrok at 1:59 PM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Based on a five minute search I know a lot about you based on your posting history including your location, sexual orientation, your college degree, ages of members of your family, some details about your work history, etc -- I don't know the full scope of top secret background checks but depending on how careful you've been about using this screen name on other sites, and how thorough they are and how well they connect the dots, I'd be careful if you really are worried about your health history coming up.
posted by olinerd at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I concur with wrok. The clearance application form will explicitly ask you to disclose any diagnoses and treatment you've received for mental health issues going back a number of years, and you will be interviewed about them in detail.

Your mental health issues will be examined and a decision will be made whether you qualify to receive a clearance. Mental health issues are not an automatic disqualification, and a number of factors mediate the concern: the likelihood of recurrence, your current state, how long ago you received treatment, and so on.

Concealing this information and lying on your form will almost certainly result in failure to obtain a clearance. Don't do it.
posted by Nomyte at 2:07 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My company does extremely low level security clearance checks as a Federal subcontractor. We don't have specific mental health questions for our background checks, but even we have to sign an authorization for the release of medical information.
posted by pie ninja at 2:09 PM on August 4, 2011

Best answer: You must tell the truth. That is the law. If you are caught, and they can make you take a polygraph, you will have an issue.

From Guideline I of the Security Clearance Adjudication Guidelines:

27. The Concern. Certain emotional, mental, and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness. A formal diagnosis of a disorder is not required for there to be a concern under this guideline. A duly qualified mental health professional (e.g., clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government, should be consulted when evaluating potentially disqualifying and mitigating information under this guideline. No negative inference concerning the standards in this Guideline may be raised solely on the basis of seeking mental health counseling.
28. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:

(a) behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behavior;
(b) an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that the individual has a condition not covered under any other guideline that may impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness;

(c) the individual has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition, e.g. failure to take prescribed medication.

29. Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:

(a) the identified condition is readily controllable with treatment, and the individual has demonstrated ongoing and consistent compliance with the treatment plan;
(b) the individual has voluntarily entered a counseling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment, and the individual is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional;

(c) recent opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government that an individual's previous condition is under control or in remission, and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation;

(d) the past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g., one caused by a death, illness, or marital breakup), the situation has been resolved, and the individual no longer shows indications of emotional instability;

(e) there is no indication of a current problem.
I am a federal employment lawyer. I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:10 PM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

You will probablybe asked to disclose this, on pain of perjury. (Based on what I've heard, a prosecution is not likely, but lying is severely frowned upon.)

In addition, you will be asked to waive your medical privacy in writing. Investigators will be able to use this to gain access to your health records, assuming there are records.

(I am a lawyer but this answer is completely outside the scope of my professional expertise, and is not legal advice.)
posted by grobstein at 2:13 PM on August 4, 2011


You'll need to get a letter from a treating pysch doc that you are not a threat/risk.

The docs know the wording. This happens all the time.

Be honest.

And if you currently don't have a doc that knows your history and can write you a letter, get one now.

posted by k8t at 2:13 PM on August 4, 2011

Please don't lie, as with past drug use they will find out and will take away or refuse to grant your clearance. Nearly all of the appeals of clearance decisions occur because the individual lied initially and then it was found out. Seeking treatment will not disqualify you, it will help as you are taking steps to control whatever disorder you have.
posted by boobjob at 3:02 PM on August 4, 2011

Mod note: anonymized this earlier for the OP fyi.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2011

As far as HIPAA goes, part of applying for a security clearance is signing a waiver that gives the investigators the right to receive various types of personal information about you. It's right there at the end of the SF-86 (and likely in some similar form on various equivalents). Take some time to review that form, or whatever the appropriate document is for the agency you're applying to. It's quite explicit about what you need to answer, and you should follow the directions precisely and answer honestly.

I would also keep in mind that if you're doing this through the Army, you might also be required to disclose all prior hospitalizations and medical conditions to prepare a medical history for the military health system. Lying on that form could well be a criminal offense (and/or violation of military law) and could show poor judgement that could hurt your case.
posted by zachlipton at 9:02 PM on August 4, 2011

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