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Ask The Lawyer: Past alcohol problems needn't doom security clearance

Sep. 29, 2011 - 03:06PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 29, 2011 - 03:06PM  |  
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Q. When I returned from my first deployment in Iraq a few years ago, I started drinking and received nonjudicial punishment for alcohol-related misconduct. I'm still in the military, trying to get a job that requires a high level of security clearance, but my application was denied due to the alcohol issues. Is this the end of the road for me?

A. Alcohol problems raise red flags for security clearance adjudicators, who refer to such issues as "disqualifying conditions." Alcohol consumption sparks concern because it can undercut service members' reliability and trustworthiness by affecting their judgment or exposing them to uncontrollable impulses.

However, an adjudicator's concern about alcohol-related misconduct or alcohol dependency in your past doesn't automatically doom your chances of being granted security clearance.

With the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among service members who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, alcohol dependency is a problem throughout the armed forces.

When attempting to obtain security clearance, you should keenly focus on what are referred to as the "HAM" principles: honesty, accuracy and mitigation.

Honesty means being completely forthcoming about any alcohol abuse in your background. You also want to make sure the information the adjudicator is considering is accurate. This step could involve noting discrepancies in alcohol diagnoses by qualified medical professions or that such diagnoses did not abide to accepted diagnostic standards.

One mitigating factor could be that the alcohol-related misconduct or excessive drinking occurred a long time ago. The strongest mitigation is successful completion of inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation along with after-care requirements, frequent participation in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar organization, and abstaining from alcohol for a period of at least 12 months,

Also very helpful is a favorable prognosis by a credentialed medical professional or a licensed clinical social worker who is a staff member of a recognized alcohol treatment program.

Service members or Defense Department contractors who have had their security clearance revoked or applications denied should contact a security clearance attorney who can ensure that you strictly adhere to the HAM principles.

That could go a long way toward enhancing a clearance adjudicator's "whole-person assessment" of you.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq War veteran and founding partner of the law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC ("> Email questions to"> The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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