Lasting scars to our nation’s national security are forming because of the continued political stalemate over spending priorities, including our financial commitment to defense.

While some view the tug-of-war over the budget as a game of political brinksmanship, there are consequences from leaving the military adrift and undirected, not the least of which is a sense of unease bordering on irrelevance among the good, honest people who have dedicated themselves to military service. Good people are deciding to leave our military because they have lost confidence in the government’s commitment to their future. This pessimism that results from endless bickering over defense spending levels and from the sense of discouragement felt in a generation of warriors who now hear a constant drumbeat of complaints that taking care of soldiers and their families has become too expensive.

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It is not just soldiers and their families who are discouraged. Our defense industry, which stood by us through a decade of war, is increasingly reluctant to consider doing military work when a slowly improving economy offers alternatives that appear to be more stable.  On the world stage, our friends, allies and even potential adversaries are unsure the direction we are headed because the U.S. doesn’t speak with one voice on foreign policy and has no budgetary roadmap that would show our commitment.

I’ve warned many times about the danger of sequestration, one of the potentially devastating consequences facing us if some budget agreement isn’t reached by year’s end, but the distrust created by a dysfunctional government is far more serious because it isn’t a one-time chunk of disappearing dollars but a more fundamental loss of faith in our government that could take generations to regain.

Our nation, our military and our soldiers deserve better than the government they now serve.

Sullivan is president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army. He sent 36 years on active-duty, a span covering from the Vietnam War to the end of the Cold War, rising to be the 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before his retirement.