It’s poignant serendipity that of all days, it was Veterans Day that we learned of a man in Walker County who set out last week on foot with the hope of arriving in time for an appointment with a doctor in Huntsville.

It wasn’t likely that he’d make it. It’s a trip of 100 miles which, according to Google Maps, would take the average pedestrian more than 30 hours, assuming he walked nonstop. Considering that the man wore an oxygen mask, it’s unlikely he’d have made it in twice that time if he made it at all.

There’s no doubt that each of us has burdens. But this gentleman, Gerald Baldwin, is a veteran of the United States military, having served in the Gulf War. He should not have had to shoulder this particular burden alone.

He didn’t have to. Shortly into his hike, he encountered a Walker County Sheriff’s Department officer, who put the word out among his colleagues. A cadre of deputies got Baldwin to Huntsville in time for his appointment at the VA, and got him back home the following day.

It’s a touching story that’s been shared more than 100,000 times on social media. It’s brought high praise to the deputies who went above and beyond to help a man down on his luck. They deserve the accolades. The power of social media also reached Baldwin’s estranged son, who hopes to reconnect with his dad after five years.

However heartwarming this story, it also underscores our government’s shamefully broken support system for veterans. Just as the Veterans Administration needs to step up its delivery of health services to the men and women who have served our country, the rest of us should make a priority of establishing programs that would assist veterans who need housing, mental health services, or even a ride to a doctor’s appointment whether across town or across the state.

Let’s not just thank them for their service. Let’s follow the example of these deputies and express our gratitude to veterans with action.

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