Kim, Richter and Weber spar over veterans’ care in South Jersey candidate forum

Rep. Andy Kim, David Richter and Martin Weber

Left to right: U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, David Richter and Martin Weber are each vying for the U.S House of Representatives seat for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional district.

Veterans issued dominated a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Burlington County and WHYY Monday night as three of the four candidates vying for the U.S House of Representatives seat for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional district squared off. This is a crucial topic for the district as it is home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Independent candidate Martin Weber, an Army veteran, said he supported “anything we can do for the veterans” and promised to fight for them.

“What do I get from the military? To be honest, zero. The healthcare system is so, so broke for us veterans down here and it gets worse,” Weber said, adding that he is still dealing with medical bills for his late best friend.

Republican challenger David Richter echoed what Weber said, adding that more needs to be done for those who served in the military. He pointed a finger at incumbent U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, for not doing enough to keep a proposed Veteran Affairs health clinic for Ocean County from being canceled.

“I can guarantee you as the congressman for the 3rd District, I will make sure that the VA builds a new clinic, Richter said. “The clinic that’s existing right now in Brick is outdated and is inappropriate for the veterans that use it.”

Kim said despite how Richter portrays it, the planned clinic is not canceled and warned against saying as much.

“It’s very dangerous to tell veterans and others that it’s canceled,” Kim said. “The Trump administration VA has delayed it, yes, and we are going to hold the VA accountable for that.”

Kim acknowledged Weber’s poor experiences with the department under both parties and said improving the VA is something that needs a commitment and not be used as “a political ploy.”

Weber said building a new VA facility in the mold of existing ones would have been “the worst thing to do.”

“The ones we do have now, they don’t work,” he added, while proposing that veterans receive an ID card and go to their local doctor or hospital. “As long as the government pays the bill, that’s what we really need to do for the vets.”

Richter alleged that a veteran who reached out to Kim’s office for help was asked his party affiliation by Kim’s staff. He accused the office of not helping when the veteran said he was a Republican.

“When he told them he was a Republican, they said, ‘Thank you,’ and they never got back to him. They never helped him,” said Richter, who did not name the person or the date the incident occurred. “He had to go to someone else’s office for assistance.”

Kim took exception to Richter’s accusation of “politicizing what is essentially the most critically important part of my job, which is delivering for the constituents of this district.”

“We helped over 4,000 constituents, including hundreds of veterans,” Kim said. “I can assure you of this and I promise you this: Not a single time has my staff asked if they are Democrat or Republican.”

Kim continued to position himself as a moderate, discussing instances where he reached across the aisle to get legislation passed to help military spouses and supported stronger border security. He also criticized the partisanship that dominates Washington and stalls real progress.

“If we get past the divisions, just get past the vitriol and the partisanship that is getting in the way of a solution,” Kim said, “I really do think it’s possible.”

Richter, a businessman best known for his time running the construction management firm Hill International, says Kim does not deserve another two years in office and that he has not kept his promises.

“[Kim] promised that he was not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker and that the Democrats in the House needed new leadership,” Richter said. “And of course he broke that promise in his very first vote in the House.”

The Burlington County Times reported in January 2019 that Kim opposed Pelosi’s nomination for speaker, but voted with the rest of his party to install the California Democrat in the role.

The 3rd District straddles Burlington and Ocean counties. According to the most recent state voter registration statistics, there are more registered Democratic voters in Burlington County. However, voters not affiliated with any political party have the edge in the traditionally Republican Ocean County.

Which way will Pa. vote?

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal