Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Changing Question 21

I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I want to thank and congratulate Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the decision to change the wording of the infamous “Question 21” on the Questionnaire for National Security Positions. For those of you not familiar with the military, this is the long form that you have to fill out about your life to begin the process of obtaining a security clearance. Changing the wording on a form may not seem like much, but its impact could be of profound importance in the lives of many of our servicemembers as they return home from combat.

For years, this form has asked servicemembers if they have received any kind of psychological counseling in the last 7 years. If they answer yes, they then had to detail that counseling.

Knowing that they need to maintain their security clearances to keep their careers, and believing (rightly or wrongly) that they could lose their clearances for admitting they were receiving counseling or therapy, servicemembers have often chosen not to seek therapy or counseling to deal with psychological combat trauma. Many who did seek such counseling did so from civilian therapists at their own expense, and then were less than truthful on the form.

I will admit that I have made decisions about my life with question 21 in mind, such as choosing to enter into spiritual direction instead of seeing a psychologist. Those decisions have worked out well for me, but I was not in as great a need as many servicemembers returning from current combat operations.

Now, servicemembers will not be required to disclose treatment they receive for general combat stress, or for common Battle Mind Injuries (of which PTSD is one). This is not a magic wand in encouraging servicemembers to seek help when they need it… there is still much in the military ethos that can prevent a servicemember from seeing a counselor or a therapist… but it is an amazingly good start, and one I congratulate the Defense Department on.

So, Secretary Gates, I send you a loud and thunderous AIRBORNE!

 Click here to read an article on the change, and other issues in caring for returning veterans.

Yours in Faith,


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