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Military Background Check


There are a few reasons why you might need to obtain a military background check. Perhaps you’re hoping to secure a civilian job on a military base or in a GS position. Maybe you’re a veteran concerned about your discharge status in terms of obtaining employment outside the military.

Whatever your reasons may be, we’re here to help you answer the question: What does a military background check consist of? And everything in between.

Why do you need a military background check?

If you’re a civilian applying for a job on a military base, the government has an interest in making sure our national security is protected. According to the protocol, “all persons privileged to be employed in the departments and agencies of the government shall be reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and of complete unswerving loyalty to the United States.”

This may be obvious, but within the military, positions often involve classified information. Therefore, military background checks are necessary, even for those not serving directly in a branch of the Armed Forces.

Depending on the position you’re applying for, the extent of your military base background check will vary. But even if you’re seeking an entry-level job that doesn’t require a security clearance, you’ll be required to undergo at least some investigation.

Long story short, completing a military background check is a requirement of federal jobs. Sure, you’re allowed to refuse since the checks are technically voluntary. But without one, you won’t meet the job requirements and therefore won’t be qualified for the position.

How long does a military background check take?

As briefly mentioned above, the scope of your military background check will vary depending on the position you’re applying for and the security clearances required. So, there is no definitive answer we can give about how long a military background check takes.

In general, a military background check is completed in the following steps:

  • Social security number verification
  • Security questionnaire
  • Personal interview
  • Fingerprints
  • Further criminal history investigations
  • Drug test

When you initially apply to a job within the military, your social security number will be verified to make sure you’re a U.S. citizen.

Next, you’ll complete a questionnaire that will ask you about your background and any criminal history or drug use in the past. It’s important that you’re honest in your military background check questionnaire, even if you’ve done some things when you were younger that you’re not the proudest of.

Some might be wondering if they need to complete the entire security questionnaire even though many of the questions can be answers on a resume – which you also likely provided as part of your job application. In short, yes — even if your resume contains much of the same information, the questionnaire needs to be completed in full.

In the next step of the process, the personal interview, you’ll be able to explain yourself if anything came up in your questionnaire that you might want to give some background for. No one is perfect and it’s why you should be honest in the questionnaire so that you can talk to someone face to face about what happened afterward.

You’ll also have your fingerprints taken to be screened through the FBI criminal database. This step is to simply verify your testimony that you are free from a criminal history.

Many military background checks will end there, but some will be a little more intensive.

In some cases, a further criminal history investigation will be necessary. This usually happens for people applying to jobs involving security clearances. These screenings take quite a long time and involve many steps including local law enforcement record checks along with confirming where they’ve lived, worked, and attended school in the last decade.

If you require a security clearance, the personal interview is taken one step further as well. Not only will you be interviewed, but your spouse, friends, neighbors, educators, employers, and references might also be interviewed.

In other cases, you may also have to complete a drug test.

What shows up on a military background check?

Before submitting a military background check, you might be wondering what will show up on it. Does military discharge appear on a background check? What if I’ve been arrested but not convicted of any crime? What negatively affects a military background check?

During the review of your criminal history on a military background check, all of these things will show up – but some offenses are more serious than others.

First, let’s talk about non-convictions. Non-convictions like arrests, warrants, and dismissed charges will show up on your military background check but depending on the job you’re applying for and the age of your non-conviction, it may or may not be an issue.

Convictions, on the other hand, are a more serious matter. Convictions include felonies, misdemeanors, and other convictions and they will certainly show up on your military background check.

If you do have a conviction on your record, you should definitely report it honestly. You’ll have the chance to explain yourself and in some cases, convictions have been known to be waived depending on the circumstances.

It should be noted here that a sealed, expunged, or reversed conviction will still show up on your military background check, as well as convictions made under a different name such as your maiden name. Long story short – it’s best to be upfront from the get-go about any past convictions on your military background check.

Certain convictions such as substance abuse, arrests, incarceration records, and even bankruptcy will show up on a military background check and can be cause for concern. Military positions, even if you’re not a soldier, look for upstanding citizens with clean records, so unless it’s been a long time or you can explain the ways you’ve changed, it might be best to look for non-government work.

As for a dishonorable military discharge, this will also come up on your military background check. In many states, a dishonorable discharge is equivalent to a felony and incurs a loss of civilian rights that will follow you for the rest of your life.

After all, a dishonorable discharge is the highest level of punishment in the military and is reserved for inexcusable crimes such as manslaughter and murder (outside of combat scenarios), sexual assault, and desertion while serving in the Armed Forces.

How long before a background check/military records expire?

Again, your position will determine how often you must obtain a new military background check depending on the level of security clearance necessary to your job. Once a security clearance is granted, it usually lasts between five and fifteen years.

It’s important to national security that even after you’re hired for your desired position that you remain an upstanding citizen and that you haven’t acquired any subsequent criminal charges.

To summarize, military background checks can be intense and they can often feel tedious and frustrating. But, they are ultimately an important part of the vetting and hiring process required to work a military job, even as a civilian.

If you don’t have a criminal past, then you’ll have nothing to worry about. And if you do, there’s still a chance you’ll get the job — just make sure you’re honest about your situation right from the beginning. Military background checks are simply part of the process. It’s required to keep our nation safe and it’s important that you do your part.

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