Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, have sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. to urge him to eliminate a requirement in the security clearance process that forces survivors of sexual assault in the military to declare whether they sought counseling.
Without a permanent change, job applicants seeking security clearance would have to disclose whether they received mental-health counseling in response to sexual assault and, if so, allow a federal investigator full access to their health records. The two lawmakers worked to overturn the policy in April but say that because the government reversed course in a final version of the security clearance questionnaire this summer, they now are advocating for a permanent change.
“We strongly urge you to reconsider this matter and reinstitute the explicit exemption for survivors of sexual assault,” Tester and Pingree wrote. “As you recognized in April, we need to do everything we can to support survivors of sexual assault — not keep them from getting the care they need or jeopardizing their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”
Sexual assault in the military has emerged as one of the most talked about defense issues in 2013, with many senators seeking changes to the government's policies as part of the pending National Defense Authorization Act. In 2012, the Department of Defense estimated that there were as many as 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact, up 37 percent from 2010. Most of these cases involve female servicemembers.
The Service Women's Action Network released a statement in support of the Tester/Pingree effort.
“[We are] grateful to Senator Tester and Congresswoman Pingree for their dedication to ensuring military sexual assault survivors' careers are not stunted or adversely affected because they sought counseling to cope with the assault,” SWAN Executive Director Anu Bhagwati said. “SWAN has already heard from service members that are confused by the recently removed exemption for military sexual assault survivors and are now hesitant to seek help. We urge Director Clapper to reinstate the explicit exemption for sexual assault survivors.”
The letter to Clapper is dated Sept. 17, but the lawmakers delayed announcing it because of the shutdown, a spokeswoman for Tester said.