Military Background Check: Disqualifiers That Go Far Back (Years & Years)

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | May 16, 2024

Man standing on the left in camo clothes enlisting in the military and a list of military background check disqualifiers on his right, with another FBI background screening official reviewing the document with his hands on his hips and a grey federal court building in the background.

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Several factors might be considered when conducting a military background check, but most people about to undergo one want to know the things that might be an automatic disqualifier.

Whether the screening is being performed for enlistment or a personnel security clearance, there are specific things that can immediately disqualify and person…and some of them go back for years and years and years.

During a military background check, these four main areas could cause concerns.

  • Dishonorable discharges
  • Crimes (convictions) resulting in a prison sentence of above a year
  • Drug use and dependency
  • Criminal ineptitude
  • And More…

Knowing what will show up on a background check is the first step. Although the military check will be a little more intensive than a standard level 1 or level 2 background check, by using various platforms or an agency that does background checks, anyone can find out what the military will see on their record.

This complete guide explains all the issues that will cause a failed military screening, as well as the records and screening process used for military background checks.

Military Background Check: Disqualifiers and Areas Checked for Enlistment

Military Background Check BranchDisqualifierTime Frame
ArmyCriminal convictions which include a felonyUp to 10 years
NavyWhether as an adult or a juvenile, the applicant has a felony conviction for a crime that involves physical or sexual assault or violence against another person; possession of illegal narcotics; or committing a crime.Up to 10 years
MarinesMost felony convictions
Currently being on parole or probation.
Up to 10 years
Air ForceAllegiance to the United States.
Foreign Influence.
Foreign Preference.
Sexual Behavior.
Up to 10 years

12 Things That Cause Failed Military Background Check

Military background checks gain access to private information as well as public, and as a government agency, it will be able to see juvenile crimes as well as mental and physical health records. The following areas (when reported negatively) can disqualify a person from military service or security clearance.

The following 12 items have no time limit on how far back the background check can go.

#1. Questionable Allegiance to the United States

If a person works for the United States government and has access to classified material, means that precautions against potential threats, such as espionage, are crucial.

Background checks are conducted to identify potential threats to national security, including acts of vandalism, spying, terror, treason, or insurrection against the United States.

The individual also can’t side with terrorists or support groups that promote violent regime change in the United States.4

This is checked using criminal records, social media profiles, and posts, and various psychological tests during the enlistment process.

#2. Foreign Influence

Second, the military will check up on the person’s loved ones.


A national security concern may exist if an applicant has a close relative or relative to whom they feel strong bonds of attachment or obligation who resides or is physically present in a foreign country.

Any family or friends with ties to a foreign government and anyone with whom the person shares a home may be subject to investigation by the Department of Defense (DoD).6

Most of the ties that will cause concern amongst government authorities are simple to establish.

#3. Favoritism Abroad

Foreign preference is analogous to foreign meddling.4

The distinction is that if the candidate has dual citizenship, the government will investigate whether or not their duties as top-secret clearance holders are compromised in any way by that fact.

In general, the applicant may not be eligible for certain security clearances if their job entails responsibilities that could put their interests at odds with those of the United States government.

#4. Criminal Sexual Behavior

The Defense Department investigates the sexual patterns of all applicants. The inquiries may seem intrusive, but their main purpose is to ensure the candidate isn’t exhibiting any criminally motivated sexual activity.

Obsessive or habitual sexual conduct is also examined when it results in a person’s inability to break from a destructive or dangerous pattern of behavior.

#5. Personal Behavior

There is a rationale for scrutinizing a person’s character during a security clearance review.

The inquiry aims to ensure they’re a law-abiding citizen by checking their paperwork and talking to their former and current employment, neighbors, friends, and family.

Even if they’re not a Boy Scout, “a habit of deceit or rule infractions” should raise red flags at the DOD. Maintaining connections with those who engage in criminal behavior is also problematic.

The primary goal of the Department of Defense’s verification process is to ensure that no material information is omitted from the candidate’s security clearance application.

Deliberately leaving out, hiding, or fabricating important and material information on a security clearance questionnaire is a red flag. Truthfulness in answering the security questionnaires is therefore highly recommended.

#6. Questionable Money Matters

The government views a history of not fulfilling financial responsibilities as reckless and untrustworthy, even if the person doesn’t perceive the connection between their financial history and military service.

The unwillingness or inability to pay off debts, for instance, is a warning sign. Gambling, substance abuse, excessive drinking, and drug use may wreak havoc on the applicant’s finances. Most significantly, they should avoid providing evidence of any fraudulent or unlawful financial activities, including but not limited to embezzlement, forgery, tax avoidance, or misappropriation.

#7. Alcohol Dependancy

Some people have a greater capacity for self-control when it comes to alcohol than others. Research is conducted on various topics connected to alcohol usage, including drunk driving, domestic violence, child and spouse abuse, and criminal activity.

Workplace mishaps involving alcohol, such as showing up drunk or incapacitated, look bad on a resume. The DOD checks all these to ensure the person doesn’t have any problems with alcohol.4

#8. Substance Abuse

Addiction to drugs is analogous to alcoholism. A security clearance cannot be granted without a medical record of drug misuse and addiction.7 Possessing, manufacturing, or distributing controlled substances is a crime, and recent drug use is severely frowned upon during the check.

Even though marijuana is now allowed for recreational use in several places, it is still unlawful in the United States armed forces because it is classified as a restricted substance.

#9. Mental and Emotional Disturbances

The DoD checks for mental, emotional, and personality symptoms by reviewing medical data.

A person’s clearance may be in danger if they have been diagnosed by a mental health expert with a condition that could impair their ability to make sound decisions, be reliable, or remain stable.

The same holds for repeated hostile, reckless, or emotionally unsteady conduct. These checks are performed by examining a person’s health record and also through various mental health tests.

#10. Involvement in Criminal Activity

It’s not hard to understand criminal behavior. Because of the government’s access to the applicant’s past convictions, it’s in the applicant’s best interest to be forthright and honest about any such history.

A security clearance may be revoked for anyone with a criminal record, whether a single significant felony (lasting upwards of a year in imprisonment) or several lesser charges.  Everyone makes errors, but if the person can show they’ve learned from them and their record is much better now, they may be eligible for leniency.

#11. Breach of Security

The military requires evidence that the person didn’t misuse their secrecy clearance if they were ever assigned to protect sensitive information. Disclosing classified material without authorization or committing multiple or willful violations are grounds for dismissal.

#12. Abuse of Electronic and Information Technology Systems

Due to technological advances and the rise of social media, investigating potential IT system abuse is a relatively new facet of military background checks.

Those who have broken the law to access a computer system will not be granted a security clearance. All forms of tampering with, erasing, or denying access to data stored in a system are considered data theft. Also suspicious is the unauthorized addition or deletion of software, hardware, or material from any electronic system.4

What Does a Military Background Check Include?

A military background check may be required of anyone seeking work in a position with the government.2 Here is what is included in the military background check.

Verification of Social Security Number

As is customary in the civilian workforce, the military will verify the candidate’s identity and work eligibility with their social security number and previous employment records.

Criminal History Record

Military recruiters also have access to records that are not commonly found on employment or tenant background checks, such as health records (private) and sealed records.

This is accomplished by reviewing the applicant’s criminal and non-criminal background which places greater weight on certain types of behavior.8

Arrests, warrants, and dropped charges are all examples of non-conviction events.

These could be a problem, but that depends on the position the person is applying for and how long ago their non-conviction occurred.

There is a greater gravity to convictions. Convictions can range from severe felonies to lesser infractions. While a sentence will often exclude an applicant from consideration for enlistment in the United States Army, waivers may be granted if the candidate otherwise demonstrates good physical, psychological, and behavioral fitness for service.

Financial Information

Who the candidate is as a person can be inferred from how they handle money and credit. It can be difficult to advance in the military if a person has a poor credit history and a history of bankruptcy. On the other hand, anything that demonstrates their competence and fiscal prudence will serve them well in the armed forces.

Private Information

The armed services almost always look at the applicant’s background history to determine their character.

First, the candidate should look into their marriage license status. Having a spouse who has been found guilty of a crime or is somehow criminal or implicated is a serious red flag. The person’s questionable actions, such as infidelity or physical abuse of their partner, are also a red flag.

The same holds true for close friends and relatives. Dealing with someone whose morals are in question frequently can hurt the chances of landing the job.

The military also frequently does cell phone and social networking site account checks. When there is a high number of mobile numbers involved, it may be necessary to conduct additional research because it may indicate suspicious actions or behavior. Similarly problematic are references to drug use, excessive drinking, violence, and other such behaviors on social media.

Finally, the military service will look at the driving record (i.e., DMV records). The military will likely find out about any driving-related offenses or licensing issues the applicant may have had in the past, making it difficult for them to enlist.2

Permits and Enterprises

The military will examine any permits, businesses, and licenses held by an applicant, in order to check for any of the disqualifiers mentioned above.

Army Documents

Prior military service is one of the few things that will appear well on a background check for the army. It would be much more impressive if the candidate had attained a good rank, had worked for an extended duration, had a family history of military duty, had earned medals, or had been awarded for service in previous campaigns.

Having references from previous superior officers they’ve worked with is helpful. Keep in mind that the candidate needs to grant consent for this material to become accessible during the application process unless they seek an extremely high-ranking post.

Credentials From Schools and Previous Jobs

A person’s motivation, character, and background can be gleaned from conversations with former employers and a review of their academic transcripts. The military will generally stop by checking the indicated accomplishments. Still, in some situations, officials can go over and above and try to talk to relevant parties from the applicant’s academic past.

Past jobs go through a similar, albeit more in-depth, procedure. Here, the army can see what the person did in their previous jobs and what titles they held, as well as, critically, why they left each of those jobs. In the employment market, it can be problematic if a person has a history of terminations.2

What Database Does the Military Use for Background Checks?

Applicants have the opportunity to elaborate on their responses to questions during the interview phase of military background checks. Executive orders mandate that all civilian and military federal personnel be fingerprinted and checked against the FBI’s criminal database.9 

Military Background Check Questions and Military Background Check Form

A security clearance interview is a tool used by the armed forces to evaluate a potential applicant’s suitability for a position by gauging how closely their prior education and work history fit the job requirements.  The more the candidate knows about the questions they might be asked in an interview, the more prepared they’ll be for the position they want.3

Screenhot of Standard form 86 questionnaire for national security positions with the top section of location codes, which is used with any air force background check.

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Some of the military background check questions include:

Wide-Ranging Interview Queries

These questions are asked to determine whether or not the candidate’s overall talents, mindset, and values are compatible with the position and the military’s mission.

Inquiries About Relevant Work History and Education

The purpose of asking about the person’s prior work and education is to ensure that they have the qualifications necessary for the position and that they meet any security clearance requirements.3

In-depth questions provide prospective employers with a chance to learn more about the applicant’s unique set of experiences and abilities.

The military uses the Standard Form 86 form during the background check.10 Individuals in the United States are asked to fill out this form so that the government can undertake background checks, rechecks, and ongoing evaluations on those being considered for or currently holding national security posts.

Army Background Check Overview

All prospective military members are subject to a thorough investigation by the FBI. The process begins with a thorough federal, state, and local background check and is launched at the military admission processing station (MEPS).11 A person’s criminal history is not necessarily a bar to military service.

Air Force Background Check Overview

Air Force recruits must submit a thorough credit and criminal history check as part of the military’s moral fiber screening process. Checks are made for prior convictions, credit problems, or juvenile conviction records.

A separate Federal agency conducts the background investigation. They cover a period as far back as ten years. Any admissions made in advance are grounds for granting a waiver.

Marines Background Check Overview

Even if it’s an entry-level position that doesn’t require a clearance certificate, the Marines will still verify a candidate’s record to make sure they’re trustworthy, honest, and have a shown commitment to the United States. Multiple factors are typically considered during marine background checks.

The depth of the investigation into an applicant’s past can vary with the job’s nature. Every person who wants to join the Marines must fill out a questionnaire on their history.

Military Background Check for Contractors: Explained

U.S. personnel have heavily depended on contractors to supply them with a wide range of necessities. Entrance and periphery security, translating into other languages, cooking and cleaning for the troops, and servicing complex armament systems are just a few examples. Many factors contribute to the DOD’s reliance on contractors, including a shortage of trained people and the desire to preserve in-demand expertise for future deployments.

Here are what is checked in the military background check for contractors;

  • Employment and residence history
  • Character references
  • Military records
  • Previous federal investigations
  • Law enforcement checks
  • Education checks
  • State checks
  • Other federal agencies

The Navy conducts a vigorous background check on potential employees.12 An applicant’s criminal history will be researched by contacting the police departments where they have lived, worked, or attended school for the past ten years. Interviews are a significant part of the process of obtaining a security clearance.

How Far Back Does a Military Base Background Check Go?

A separate Federal agency conducts the background investigation. They cover a time as far back as ten years. Any admissions made in advance are grounds for granting a waiver.

How Long Does a Military Background Check Take?

When a person is offered a new position or assignment that calls for a top-secret clearance, they will fill out a form to initiate the investigation process, which will take approximately 60 days to complete but can take more time depending on the level.5

Will A Military Conviction Show Up on a Background Check?

A felony conviction received in the military will show up in a background check even if it’s not received in a civilian court.

What To Do If You Fail a Military Background Check

Suppose an applicant for a security clearance has their application denied. In that case, they have the option of filing an appeal by sending a formal appeal brief, which should explain why they believe their application should be granted.

The Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals will evaluate the appeal brief once submitted.1

Is There a Military Base Visitor Background Check? (Background Check for Military Base Access)

Military posts do undertake background checks before admitting someone on-site with a visitor’s pass, and base limits are occasionally up to the base commander. As long as a visitor doesn’t have an outstanding warrant for their arrest, they shouldn’t have any trouble receiving a military ID card.5

With a military background check, the screening is thorough and designed to protect the integrity of the country.

Frequently Asked Questions About Military Background Check Process

Does Military Discharge Appear Background Check?

It will not show up when conducting a background investigation via a policy firm. The only way it will become apparent is if a person applies for a job that requires them to disclose their military history or if the employer requests access to their military file.

Does Military Service Show Up on a Background Check?

It will show up when applying for a military position or security clearance.

Does a Military Background Check Medical Records?

Those who satisfy the armed services physical exam and have no discernible health records may be accepted. Nonetheless, the Army can look into the trooper’s medical history if they feel they have a pre-existing ailment that was not revealed.

Can You Visit a Military Base With a Misdemeanor?

To ensure the safety of all personnel and visitors, the U.S. government has recently increased the stringency of background checks. Even if a person has a criminal record, a misdemeanor conviction in the past may not always prevent them from visiting a military installation.

What Does Military Background Check Include?

A military background check includes a search though criminal records, including any sealed or expunged convictions, as well as a search of public records.

How Far Back Does the Military Background Check Go? (How Far Back Does Military Background Check Go?)

Depending on the type of service associated with the background check, the check can view a person’s full background.


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412 Security Clearance Disqualifiers. (2021, June 13). Operation Military Kids. <>

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