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Health Chairwoman Miller-Meeks Opens Iowa Field Hearing on Breakthroughs in VA Healthcare

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the subcommittee’s field hearing at the University of Iowa on innovations in VA healthcare:


Good morning. This field hearing for the Subcommittee on Health for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs will come to order.


My name is Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and it is my pleasure to serve as the Congresswoman for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and the Chairwoman of this Subcommittee.


Before we begin, I want to thank the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Iowa for providing us with this space to host this field hearing. It’s a great day when I get to spend it with our Hawkeye community which I was proud to be a part of as the first woman on the faculty of University of Iowa’s Department of Ophthalmology.


I also want to thank my colleague and friend, Representative Julia Brownley from California, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, for traveling to my district for today’s hearing. I look forward to visiting her district in a few months for a field hearing with California veterans and stakeholders.


I also want to thank VA for being with us today.


If we could pause for a moment, I would like all of the veterans in attendance to please raise your hand or stand if you are able.


Thank you for your service to our nation, it is an honor to represent you in Congress.


First, I would like to point out some of the members of my staff standing in the room that may be of assistance to you if needed. If any of you are having veteran’s related issues, feel free to stop and ask them questions when you are leaving.


The format for today’s hearing is set up to allow the audience to listen to the proceedings and testimony of a Congressional hearing as if we were in Washington D.C. This is not a town hall, but if you have issues or concerns, my staff can assist you following the end of the hearing.


As a physician and a 24-year Army Veteran, it is my top priority to ensure that VA delivers state-of-the-art, modern healthcare to veterans nationwide. I know firsthand how important technical advancements in healthcare can be in ensuring we accomplish our duty as clinicians.


This mission requires constant oversight and attention to keep moving the ball forward.


During today’s hearing we will discuss the transformative work that is being done in the veterans’ healthcare space, work that the Iowa VA Healthcare System is a leader in, as well as hearing from some of the constituents in my district who are leading the way in healthcare and veteran entrepreneurship. 


We will also discuss the partnerships VA has made with private healthcare providers in Iowa to ensure that every veteran has access to the care that works for them.


Finally, we will examine the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence in ophthalmology, that were pioneered right here in our state.


As I previously stated, innovation in healthcare is a topic that is very close to me, and I support pushing the technology envelope to reach new heights in quality medicine for veterans and all Americans.


The University of Iowa Health Care System in partnership with VA’s Central Iowa Heath Care System has done exactly that.


The Iowa City VA Medical Center is ranked 33 out of 154 training sites for clinicians VA-wide, and the University of Iowa is also ranked highly when it comes to research and funding among U.S. public institutions.


The University of Iowa Health Care System was also the first hospital to offer patients access to AI technology in the field of ophthalmology, with technology that diagnoses diabetic retinopathy, pioneered by Iowa’s own, Dr. Michael Abramoff. One of our witnesses, Dr. Mansoor, who works with Dr. Michael Abramoff, is here today and will be speaking more on this later.


I’d also like to a minute to expand a bit on another important AI venture, VA’s REACH VET program. REACH VET is a predictive AI model that identifies veterans who may clinically benefit from enhanced care, outreach, and assessment of suicide risk. It then flags these veterans for further care.


The program is active in 28 VA sites and has been able to identify around 6,700 veterans per month. 


It is with breakthrough technology like this that we are able to make a difference and save veteran’s lives.


I am excited to be here, and I look forward to the discussion we will have today. Once again, I want to thank Ranking Member Brownley for traveling to my district, and I yield time to her for her opening statement.
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