Students Sponsor Legislation To Rename Route 137 Bridge

By: William F. Galvin

The Route 137 bridge may soon serve more than the movement of vehicles over Route 6. A student initiative seeks to name the bridge “Hidden Wounds Memorial Bridge” drawing attention to soldiers suffering from related injuries such as PTSD. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

To honor 'Hidden Wound' Veterans

HARWICH — The Route 137 bridge over Route 6 could take on another purpose than just carrying vehicles over the state highway. An eighth grade civics class at Monomoy Regional High School wants to have the bridge honor veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other lingering effects of their service. The state Senate is weighing that idea now.

The idea was shaped in John Dickson’s Project Citizen program in his civic class last year. Each civics class in the program takes on an issue, researches it, develops a class policy and tries to get that policy enacted.

Dickson said students reached out to Rob Mador, a local resident who has been involved in Bridges for the Fallen, a group that gets bridges named for soldiers who have died in service to their country. Mador led the effort to get the Route 124 bridge named the Ralph Burns Memorial Bridge. Mador’s group has been successful in getting bridges named across the country for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“In our discussions with Rob, we adopted as our class policy the naming of the bridge over (Route) 137 in Harwich to honor not a specific veteran but all those veterans who have come home and suffered from PTSD and other lingering effects of service, many tragically succumbing to these impacts,” said Dickson.

The students did their homework, talked with several local veterans and agreed on the “Hidden Wounds Memorial Bridge” as a meaningful way to acknowledge the sacrifice and suffering of many veterans whose injuries are not apparent, he said.

A bill was shaped last June with Mador’s assistance. State Representatives Sarah A. Peake, D- Provincetown, and Tim Whalen, R-Brewster, guided it through the House of Representatives. It passed in the House on Dec. 3 and was sent to the Senate where it is in its third reading.

Selectmen last week endorsed the legislation. Pat Johnson, representing Senator Julian Cyr, D- Truro, said Cyr wanted to be sure selectmen support the legislation as it moves through the Senate committee on bills hearings. The Senate must act on it by Jan. 5 or it will be held over to the next legislative session.

The legislation reads: “The bridge on state highway Route 137 spanning United States highway Route 6 in the town of Harwich shall be designated and known as the Hidden Wounds Memorial Bridge in honor and recognition of all those who have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, and other unseen ailments, especially as a result of service in the military or public safety occupations. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall erect and maintain suitable markers bearing this designation in compliance with standards of the department.”

Last year’s Project Citizen group worked hard in doing the research and making presentations to the panel of judges for the project, Dickson said. The students included Liam Jordan, Abigail Gates, Jake Vagenas, Camden Jolibois, Sussannah Brown and Trey Nunes.

The students found PTSD rates among veterans run between 11 and 33 percent and include flashbacks of traumatic events. PTSD veterans avoid places and things that remind them of war. Images of death, violence and injuries related to war can instill paranoia, the students found in their research.

“These factors all make it harder for veterans to continue a normal life,” the students state.

Since the turn of the century, 400,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury There are more than 40,000 homeless veterans living in shelters or on the streets. The invisible long-term injuries soldiers carry with them are these “hidden wounds.”

The students’ chose “Hidden Wounds Memorial Bridge” is because “we want to make it (people) aware that not just PTSD affects soldiers,” their presentation reads. The hope is “it will help people suffering start healing.”

If the legislation is promulgated, the students would like to hold a public bridge dedication ceremony with guest speakers and possibly a memorial ride.

Selectman Ed McManus offered a motion for the board to support the legislation.

“It couldn’t be a better monument over the Grand Army of the Republic Highway,” added Selectman Donald Howell. Selectmen unanimously supported the legislation.