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A call to action: Service to nation can help bridge the rift that divides Americans

Originally Published in USA Today on March 10, 2020

Washington, March 10, 2020
Originally published in USA Today

By Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Michael Waltz

Turn on your TV and you’ll see headline after headline of how America is divided.

Politics appears to be full of bitter vitriol — a reflection of the deep fault lines in our society. 

Many Americans are seldom placed in situations where they must meet face-to-face with people who look, think or believe differently than they do. No longer are they encouraged to step outside of their comfort zone and unite for a greater purpose.

This is why the two of us — a Democrat and a Republican from different parts of the country — are working together to incentivize America to rise above the bitter divide and to get back into our communities and serve.

To achieve this goal, we are working with the bipartisan For Country Caucus, made up of 21 veterans, to pass the National Service GI Bill.  As military veterans — Chrissy served in the Air Force on ballistic missile defense and Michael served as a U.S. Army Green Beret — we understand what it means to accomplish the mission, regardless of race, ideology, religious background or party affiliation. In serving your country, you learn how to lead and follow, teamwork, and discipline — values America could use more of today. 

But service to this nation extends beyond the military.

Service changes you. It encourages you to engage with people who may not be exactly like you or may not share your same background. Service pushes you out of your comfort zone. It compels you to sacrifice on behalf of a greater good. We believe more people, young and old, can and should serve, be it in our military, protecting our national parks, assisting the elderly or teaching our youth.

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We want to hear from you: Be a part of the solution to finding solutions. Tell us here.

We don’t believe this means returning America to a mandatory draft, but we absolutely believe service should be encouraged and incentivized. To do this, we have proposed an idea: In exchange for one year of service, young people who volunteer in a national service program should be eligible for in-state tuition (a current benefit in the GI Bill), paid community college and hiring incentives.

Service leads to opportunities

Through this legislation, we can create a new normal, where young adults graduate from high school, serve their community and country and then seek higher education.

This means that not only will national service participants learn the skills of leadership, followership, communication and working with others, but they’ll also have greater opportunities to go to college, get a job and pursue the American dream.

Data supports the idea that service leads to greater opportunities later in life. A recent study from the Corporation for National and Community Service found high school graduates who complete volunteer service are 51 percent more likely to find jobs and careers.

Let's make it easier to serve

Most important, national service is one of the best ways to heal a divided nation. A huge reason America is so fractured today is because many people sit in their echo chambers and rarely venture outside their comfort zone.

This needs to change.

We must make it easier to answer the call to serve — and we believe the National Service GI Bill will be an important step on that path. 

We encourage our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this measure, and we encourage citizens who agree to call on their members of Congress to be supportive as well. We think America is more than ready for it, and we think that America is more than worth it.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan represents Pennsylvania’s Sixth District. Rep. Republican Michael Waltz represents Florida’s Sixth District in Congress. 

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