Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

I don’t know what it is like to have post-traumatic syndrome disorder or PTSD; the closest I’ve been was what I’d call “moving blues” which lasted for about six months. It was dark and depressing but nothing like what Kristin Loken, a Foreign Service officer with USAID had experienced. In the January 2008 issue of the Foreign Service Journal, she writes:

“Strong emotions would come and go without any relevance to what was happening around me. I had regular nightmares about running away from uniformed men with guns trying to kill me. Sometimes I would also have what I called “daymares.” I would encounter a person at work in a meeting and see them suddenly fall victim to some horrible trauma — a car wreck, a shooting, a bomb explosion. These daymares struck quickly, then disappeared, leaving me sitting in a meeting not knowing what I had missed. As I tried to regain normal functioning, I noticed that my mouth wouldn’t work right; I couldn’t talk properly and could hardly communicate with people around me.

There was a great deal going on inside my head, but it had no relevance to what was going on in the world around me. I could answer a direct question in a few words, but then could not say anything more for long periods of time. I didn’t feel sad; I didn’t feel happy. Often I didn’t seem to feel anything at all.”

It seems like every week, I get somebody online with the search phrase “PTSD and security clearance concerns.” It’s been months since the Secretary of Defense has successfully advocated the revision of Question 21 of the SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions for DOD and I have not heard a single thing out of State. With a few remaining days left in office, I doubt if this is going to get any attention from the current occupant of the 7th Floor.

I also find it troubling that none of the webpages of Mental Health Services, Bureau of Diplomatic Security or “M” carry any information nor guidance on mental health consultations/treatment and its relevance to the employee’s medical and security clearance. Please don’t tell me they are on the intranet. Family members and partners do not have ready access to that thing.

In any case, I figure that with an incoming Secretary of State, this would be a good time to initiate a petition. I have considered the pros and cons of an online petition and have reservations not just with publicly posting names of petitioners, but also whether the intended recipients ever actually read online petitions. Thus, this one is going to be an old fashion, paper and snail mail petition.

Below is the text of the petition urging the revision of Question 21 of SF-86 for the Foreign Service. You can download the petition in Word file here or PDF file here. Please sign it, collect five other names/signatures from your immediate colleagues and mail it off to the Mother ship. I also urge you to pass on this petition to family members and friends of the Foreign Service for additional support.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to examine the nomination of Hillary R. Clinton to be Secretary of State on Tuesday (January 13, (9:30 am, SH-216). On January 15, the SFRC will have a business meeting to consider HRC’s nomination. With a simple majority needed for confirmation, I expect that she will be confirmed very shortly after the new president takes office. I would therefore suggest that petition letters be mailed off between now and February 20, 2009 to help ensure that the letters will be at her office when she assumes her duties.

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The Honorable Hillary R. Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

PETITION: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

We, the undersigned call on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upon assumption into office, to reaffirm that the Department of State strongly endorses the practice of seeking professional help to address all health- related concerns whether mental or physical; to also reaffirm that the Department of State considers it a mark of strength and maturity to seek appropriate health care whenever required; and to make clear that seeking professional care for mental health issues in and itself is not a reason to revoke or deny an individual’s security clearance. This is important in the Foreign Service, whose members are exposed to traumatic events with psychological impact not only in conflict zones but also in diplomatic hardship assignments worldwide.

Nearly 60% of our Foreign Service personnel are at posts considered by the U.S.Government as “hardship” due to difficult living conditions (for example, violent crime, harsh climate, social isolation, unhealthy air, and/or terrorist threats). Of those hardship posts, half are rated at or above the 15-percent differential level which constitutes great hardship, and where family members are unable to accompany such assignments.

In April 2008, the Secretary of Defense has successfully advocated the revision of Question 21 of the SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which asks about mental health treatment. The revised question excludes counseling related to marital, family or grief issues, unless related to violence by the applicant/employee. It also rules out counseling for adjustments from service in a military combat environment. The OSD guidance also points out that failure to seek care increases the likelihood that psychological distress could escalate to a more serious mental condition, which could preclude an individual from performing sensitive duties.

Your immediate predecessor has not released a similar affirmation to encourage the treatment of PTSD and other related mental health issues. The Concerned Foreign Service Officers has noted “the continued revocations of security clearances based on mental health treatment – a practice that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security routinely perpetuates even after DOD and OPM have agreed not to count certain types of treatment, e.g. for PTSD, against the employee.”

The organization of the 21st century will be judged by the wholeness of its people. The first step to getting us there is to help ensure that Foreign Service officers, specialists, and family members and partners obtain the help they need without fear that such consultation/treatment jeopardizes their security clearance and employment.

Employees, Family Members/Partners and Friends of the U.S.Foreign Service

Your name/signature:

Collect five more names/signatures

Name/signature 1:

Name/signature 2:

Name/signature 3:

Name/signature 4:

Name/signature 5:


Office of the Secretary of Defense – Revised Q21

Concerned Foreign Service Officers Warning On Mental Health Treatment

Foreign Service Journal January 2008: Focus on PTSD and the Foreign Service

Executive Order 10450

Executive Order 12968

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Petition in Word
(if you want to insert your own story)
Petition in PDF

Sorry I don’t have a mail budget so the stamp is on you :-). Please mail signed petition to:

Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Many thanks for your help!