They need treatment - they don't want to lose their job
November 30, 2011 8:17 PM   Subscribe

An aquaintance of mine works for a defense contractor company as has a fairly high security clearance. They also have a serious drinking problem and have admitted that they are an alcoholic. However, they are afraid to go for treatment because they are concerned that they will lose their security clearance as a result.

This person has a spouse and several children. The fights and conflicts between them and their spouse about the drinking may very well lead to a divorce or worse. Additionally, this individual has a painful back injury that dates back to their teens. The drinking is, in part, an attempt to medicate their physical pain. They claim that they are afraid that using prescription pain medication to manage their back pain could also adversely affect their security clearance.
Because I've had some experience dealing with addicts, I am unsure what part of this person's story is cold hard fact and what is part might be the addiction talking.
Hive mind, your wisdom is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You know why alcoholism is a security risk? It's not really because they're afraid that a person will drunkenly tell the Russian on the next stool all the secrets they know. It's because it exposes the person to blackmail, especially when they don't seek treatment and are trying to hide that alcoholism from their employer.

Your acquaintance needs to talk to an employment lawyer immediately, to find out what their rights are. Immediately after that, the person needs to talk to their boss and come clean.
posted by Etrigan at 8:29 PM on November 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

I went through a treatment center where the Canadian Forces sent many of its military staff who required treatment, representing a wide range of titles and clearances. One man had such a high position and clearance that he could not discuss anything about his work nor did anyone ever find out his title or even which arm of the military he worked for. He successfully completed treatment and went back to his family and work (whatever that is), and is doing great.

It's incredibly likely that your acquaintance's company has such a treatment center that they trust and to which they send their employees who need help-- it's statistically impossible that they haven't had to deal with a situation like this before with an employee, and as I understand it, it's in their best interests (and possibly their legal responsibility, depending on location) to provide the time (if not the location) for your acquaintance to seek such help. I agree with Etrigan's order of operations under these circumstances.

As far as the prescription pain medication goes-- well, if you remove the alcohol and don't provide help, the addict will substitute something else. Not taking it is a good thing, but that has nothing to do with security clearances.
posted by mireille at 8:32 PM on November 30, 2011

It's incredibly likely that your acquaintance's company has such a treatment center that they trust and to which they send their employees who need help

This is America, not Canada.

The risk is real.

Seriously, give up clearance to get better.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:33 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Because I've had some experience dealing with addicts, I am unsure what part of this person's story is cold hard fact and what is part might be the addiction talking.

I don't know at what level of security clearance routine polygraph examinations are used, but they are used for some of them. I know a civilian employee of a defense contractor that has had to take them and he was asked about his sex life, alcohol use and drug use and whether he took prescription medications. And they are ongoing, it is not a one time thing -- every 6 months or once a year, not sure of the frequency.
posted by mlis at 10:37 PM on November 30, 2011

Ironmouth would know about this, but I also remember the person telling me that he also had an affirmative duty to report certain types of conduct he might engage in or certain interactions with others.
posted by mlis at 10:46 PM on November 30, 2011

Alcoholism is not an automatic revocation of security clearance. The impact will depend on the level of problem, rehabilitation or behavior modification and how high 'high' is. I personally know at least one person who received treatment for alcoholism and retained (or possibly regained - I don't know the details) a Top Secret clearance.

This article is not policy but the views expressed are consistent with what I've seen of security adjudication. It is far more of an issue to conceal a problem than it is to acknowledge and deal with them, from a security standpoint.
posted by macfly at 11:41 PM on November 30, 2011

I can only echo Canadian security procedures, which agree with Etrigan - nothing is a dealbreaker provided it is disclosed. They ask you about all of this stuff during during the initial screening, and there are no wrong answers, no answers that will disqualify you (apart from admitting to treason, desires to overthrow the government, or felonies).

Then they check your answers and if they find something like undisclosed alcoholism, you lose your clearance not for the drinking problem itself, but for the failure to disclose it. In this system the employing agency would want to know immediately so that they can arrange treatment. Very rarely they would find a way to temporarily assign the individual duties requiring a reduced security clearance until the situation/treatment was resolved. Having a high clearance is a qualification that's in sufficient demand that they will try to rehabilitate the clearance wherever possible.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:43 PM on November 30, 2011

First commenter has it. When his alcoholism is discovered he will lose his job. If he goes through appropriate channels and asks for help, he stands a decent chance of being ok, as he is no longer a blackmail risk at that time.
posted by kavasa at 1:18 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

He should express his problems in a diplomatic way, showing that he's seeking treatment before things run off the rails, not long after.

Keeping a secret like alcoholism from the government would be doubleplusbad. I have an acquaintance who had security clearance problems because he was mostly closeted. The issue wasn't that he was gay, but because forcible outing could have been used as leverage.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:47 AM on December 1, 2011

Keeping secrets from those you are keeping secrets for will never end well.

It is better to lose his clearance, at worst, and solve the drink problem now, than to (inevitably) lose his job but keep the drink problem if it is discovered later on.

I suspect another problem is that he doesn't actually want to give up drinking yet.
posted by epo at 6:17 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there an Employee Assistance Plan among the worker's benefits? That's worth checking out.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:47 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

This thread might help your friend gain some insight into the process of losing (or not losing) clearance.

The thread implies that seeking help and being honest about the situation can help regain a clearance if it's lost at some point.

As others have said before here, lying and concealing a problem is potentially more concerning than having the problem in the first place.
posted by el io at 6:48 AM on December 1, 2011

This is America, not Canada.
Probably, but nothing in the question explicitly says America.
posted by soelo at 7:15 AM on December 1, 2011

The DOD publishes the outcome of appeals pertaining to security clearances (referenced in the thread linked by el io. I believe reviewing these will give you a good picture of what the DOD really thinks is important. My own review of these confirmed for me the basics of the first comment of the thread: what they are really, really hard on is lying and secrets, and your friend is much more at risk of losing his job through his current course of action than through seeking treatment. They also care about out-of-control debt.

They also care about family members at risk of kidnapping and torture by enemy militants.
posted by endless_forms at 7:15 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was just about to post the same thing endless_forms did. This is exactly why they publish the information, so that you will have a better idea of what they want. Your friend should spend a lot of time reviewing these, but I just wanted to highlight this one.

"Applicant is 54 years old and employed by a defense contractor. Applicant has a history of illegal drug and prescription medication abuse. She also has record of excessive alcohol consumption. Both conditions date from her high school years. Applicant was identified in 1999 with these problems and completed an out-patient rehabilitation program. She relapsed in 2007 and was again identified through workplace drug testing with the same problems in 2009. She attended an in-patient treatment program in 2009, admitted her dependencies and has followed the post-rehabilitation recommendations. Applicant mitigated the security concerns raised under Guideline H pertaining to her drug involvement and Guideline G relating to her alcohol consumption. Clearance is granted. CASE NO: 10-05290.ht1"

In order to maintain an eligibility for clearance, your friend needs to admit his problem, take demonstrable steps to get help in rehabilitating himself, follow post-rehabilitation recommendations, and stay clean. A lawyer won't hurt.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:52 AM on December 1, 2011

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
IANAL. Your friend could probably start seeing a psychologist for anxiety or marital issues or something in a way that would let him state that he has never sought treatment for alcoholism. The therapist will probably be asked only if he/she knows of any reason your friend should not hold a clearance, and I suspect many therapists would feel answering that they know no such reason, so your friend should feel them out on that issue during the first appointment.
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 AM on December 1, 2011

TINLA and IANYL, but a quick check of the Adjudicative Guidelines For Determining Eligibility for Access To Classified Information (linked here) states:

23. Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
(a) so much time has passed, or the behavior was so infrequent, or it happened under such unusual circumstances that it is unlikely to recur or does not cast doubt on the individual's current reliability, trustworthiness, or good judgment;
(b) the individual acknowledges his or her alcoholism or issues of alcohol abuse, provides evidence of actions taken to overcome this problem, and has established a pattern of abstinence (if alcohol dependent) or responsible use (if an alcohol abuser);
(c) the individual is a current employee who is participating in a counseling or treatment program, has no history of previous treatment and relapse, and is making satisfactory progress;
(d) the individual has successfully completed inpatient or outpatient counseling or rehabilitation along with any required aftercare, has demonstrated a clear and established pattern of modified consumption or abstinence in accordance with treatment recommendations, such as participation in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar organization and has received a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified medical professional or a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized alcohol treatment program.

I'm not sure how this plays out for the various levels, but what I've heard is that the mere fact of the incidents (sexual orientation, alcoholism, prior drug use, etc.) is not a big deal unless you are at the very highest levels -- as in, Yankee White. But what does get people into trouble is exposure to blackmail or otherwise falsifying things.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:45 AM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My friends in similar positions have had to get clean anonymously. They've also had to get anti-depressants anonymously, and do counseling anonymously. There is a whole network of MDs who will work with people like your friend for the reasons he states. He's not exaggerating, or not by much.

The people I knew would just .... stop getting assignments. Or stop getting promoted, which in their branch of the military was the same as being told to resign

(I never understood that- why do people they've spent so much time and energy training have to resign as soon as they aren't promoted any more?)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:17 AM on December 1, 2011

Note: I am not saying these are official policies. I'm saying they were actual policies. I suppose you could sue but that isn't great for a career either.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:18 AM on December 1, 2011

In our area of government, we have Employee Assistance and on-site psychiatrists for people struggling with addictions/emotional issues.
He is probably more at risk for losing their security clearance by NOT seeking help through the Employee Assistance sources.
We recently had an employee that went through something similiar. He took paid leave for a month or two and did whatever he had to do for getting "straight". He's now back at work.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
I wanted to reply to some of the questions raised by the respondents. Yes, this person lives in the United States. According to them, they have to take periodic polygraph tests, and one of the things that this person is asked is if they are being treated for a substance abuse problem. They are afraid of the scenario small_ruminant presents: This person openly seeks treatment, only to find later that their career mysteriously stalls.
However, I am concerned that much of what I am being told is being fed through the filter of addiction. I have dealt with addicts before. I have found that, to put it kindly, addicts tend to present their options for getting sober as slim to none and the requirements for accessing treatment so daunting that making any effort to get clean is futile. I am concerned that this individual is not looking at the situation with a clear head.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:14 PM on December 1, 2011

He or she needs to go directly to their security officer and ask for help. It's been stressed multiple times that the lying is the problem, not necessarily the addiction. All the big ones - bankruptcy, addiction, gambling, etc. - can be worked past as long as it's in concert with your security officer and they are able to curb the behavior.

Definitely agree with sm1tten's comment that "All this advice is worthless if his primary concern is keeping his clearance and not figuring out how to make this all work."

It also may make a difference if the person is a defense contractor employee vs. a government employee.

Another note - the Lifestyle poly has been dramatically revamped in recent years; they no longer ask the infamously intrusive, offensive questions. I believe it's down to 3-6 simple questions.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:46 AM on December 2, 2011

I have found that, to put it kindly, addicts tend to present their options for getting sober as slim to none and the requirements for accessing treatment so daunting that making any effort to get clean is futile.

This is true, and it's true for mental illness, too, like depression. Your guy might consider asking around "for a friend" for referrals to discreet MDs, recovery centers.

You might also do the same- ask your collegues if they know of anyone or any group. They're out there. Judges, AGs, DAs, etc all use them, too. I think the whole situation is bullshit- they sentence people to drug programs all the time, but THEY'RE too cool to go? But it's the way things are.

A big problem built into it, imo, is that for most people a big chunk of getting sober is being honest both to themselves and the people around them. Having to lie constantly, even about something that's not addiction related, is almost its own gateway drug back into relapse. That's been my observation, anyway.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:52 AM on December 2, 2011

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