Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

Super hero and occasional Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has dropped yet another bomb: No longer will his babes in uniform have to reveal treatment for combat-related mental health issues. In short, they now may answer “No” to Question 21 on security clearance applications. 

So, why not just get rid of the question? 

The revised SF-86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, will permit a respondent to answer “No” if mental health care was not court-ordered and was “strictly related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment.” (Message: If you have a mental health issue that is not combat-related, watch out.) 

In their (bumbling) efforts to “destigmatize” mental health care, officials hope this change will encourage people to seek help for combat-related mental health disorders. It has been reported the change covers civilian DoD employees and all applicants for security clearances. 

But the exact opposite might be occurring: The move might further stigmatize mental illness and treatment. In this latest move, warfighters with these “accepted” combat mental health issues are permitted (encouraged?) to conceal their conditions. But their answer of “No,” is still really “Yes,” because it is a smoke screen of sorts orchestrated by Defense Denizens. The spirit of “don’t ask, don’t tell” has many applications it seems, though one might be curious if any ethics or fairness questions were raised. What about those hapless schleps who may need help, but have no “justification” like combat? The message we hear: Hapless Schleps! Hide your condition, lie, or pack your bags, you have been voted off the island. 

C’mon who’s kidding whom? 

What is the purpose of Question 21 if defense officials are going to cherry pick who gets to answer in what manner? Because the change seems to effectively nullify the question, why not toss it? The Security Clearance Police probably can catch what they need to in other questions. 

Though well-intentioned, the latest policy on mental health disclosure is unfair to combat and non-combat servicemembers and undermines efforts to destigmatize treatment across the services. 

Combat zone-related mental illness, the new protected class.

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