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FRIENDS & FAMILY: Challenging the Status Quo

By Sean Webb

Soldiers who suffer limb loss and limb difference challenge the status quo in the military. For decades, losing a limb limited a soldier to crutches, a wheelchair, and at the very least discharge from active service. With the improvements of prostheses and artificial joints, the options for soldiers returning to active duty are limitless. Each branch of the military has guidelines on permitting soldiers to return to work after an amputation. No matter the requirements, these soldiers challenge the status quo, aspiring to return to work and serve our country.

There are those who live at the intersection of wanting to serve in the military but cannot because current legislations prohibit people born with limb loss or limb difference from military service. Hannah Cvancara is one of those people who live at this intersection. Hannah was born with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect where the bones in her legs, ankle and foot do not grow with the body. At 1 year old, she had her left leg amputated below the knee, but it has not prevented Hannah from setting goals and achieving them. She played seven sports through grade school, hails from a hiking, outdoor family and stays active through
swimming and running.

Hannah earned her nursing degree from National University in 2019, and currently works as an orthopedic nurse at Northwest Orthopaedic Specialist in Spokane, Washington. She aspires to become an active-duty nurse in the U.S. Navy but was denied. The only tangible reason: Hannah uses an Ossur manufactured prosthetic left leg, which labels her as “medically disqualifying.” But she will not accept no for an answer; she seeks to change disability laws. Through perseverance, self-advocacy and support from members of Congress, Hannah is working to change these laws, and expand opportunities for the disability community in the Navy.

“I love this country, and I just have to try a little harder and I’m OK with that,” Hannah said. “I’m built for that; I have the patience for that. I want to be able to advocate for the disabled community using my story if I can.”

Hannah took the Physical Readiness Test, an examination required by the Navy, and passed with flying colors.

“I took it to say, ‘Here’s my objective results from the PRT. Here’s what I can do. Give me a chance,’“ Hannah said. “I know what the rules say, but I’m looking past that to try to get you to see. Look, I’m already a nurse, I work full time, I’m on my feet all the time. Nothing would change for me. I don’t require accommodation.”

It is the call to serve her country that motivates Hannah to confront the current system. She dares to blaze a trail and aspires to be great. She works to change the future for herself and people like her by reshaping disability laws. No one’s aspiration to change the world, serve one’s country, and accomplish goals should be limited by a disability. Hannah is advocating for all to have an equal opportunity to achieve their dreams by challenging the status quo.