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Health Equity And Rural Outreach Innovation Center (HEROIC)

The Charleston VA Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center (HEROIC) is one of 18 nationally funded VA HSR&D Centers of Innovation (COIN) aimed at increasing the impact of health services research regarding Veteran’s health and related health care needs. HEROIC's mission is to improve access and equity in healthcare for all Veterans by eliminating geographic, racial/ethnic, and gender-based disparities. To accomplish this, HEROIC focuses on three areas of research, Health Equity, Access to Care, and Rural Health.

Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center Logo

Our History: 

The Charleston VA Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center (HEROIC) is one of 18 nationally funded Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) funded Centers of Innovation (COIN). COINs were created to promote innovative research and ensure research has the greatest possible impact on VA policies, health care practice, and health outcomes for Veterans. 

Ten years before becoming a COIN, our VA health service workers were funded by the VA HSR&D program. Initially, we were a Targeted Research Enhancement Program (TREP) from 2004-to 2008, and subsequently as a Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) from 2008-to 2013.  After significant growth in our collaborative team and the establishment of a strong health services research presence in Charleston, HEROIC successfully competed for and was awarded designation as a COIN. Led by the Director, R. Neal Axon, MD, and the Associate Director, Elizabeth (Liz) Santa Ana, Ph.D., HEROIC is the only COIN in VISN7 and the rural south. With a growing team of investigators and a focus on health equity, access to care, and rural health the COIN is positioned to make a meaningful impact on Veteran health, reduce disparities and improve VA operational effectiveness. 

Our Mission: 

Advance implementation of evidence-based interventions designed to improve access & promote equity in outcomes in targeted vulnerable Veteran populations.   

Health Equity: Improve equity in healthcare and reduce disparities in health outcomes through the development and testing of innovative, patient-centered, and culturally tailored interventions.   

Access to Care: Increase access to care by developing interventions that address the geographical, temporal, financial, cultural, and digital dimensions that influence access to care, as well as perceptions of care and perceived need for care.    

Rural Health: Improve health outcomes among rural individuals by examining the increased role of technology on to access needed information. 


Please visit COIN: Charleston Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center (HEROIC); Charleston, SC to read more about the Centers of Innovation. 


Our Affiliations  

VA Healthcare System Affiliates 


Academic Affiliate 

Medical University South Carolina (MUSC) 


Our HSR&D studies are aligned with our focus on improving access and equity in healthcare from all Veterans by eliminating disparities. HEROIC researchers lead numerous studies relating to health equity, access to care, and rural health that is supported by the VA, National Institute of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security, private foundations and other agencies. Currently we are enrolling Veterans for studies investigating questions related to delivery of PTSD treatment, care for Veterans with heart failure, use of My HealtheVet for Veterans with diabetes, mobile application for caregivers of Veterans with dementia, housing stability for homeless Veterans with substance use disorders, screening for lung cancer in Veterans, and perspectives on collection of race/ethnicity data by the VA. 

Visit our Research Projects page to learn more.

As a center, our greatest asset has been the dynamic group of junior and midlevel researchers dedicated to eliminating disparities and improving Veterans' access to care. Our team is diverse in terms of personal characteristicis such as gender, age, and race/ethnicity; but also in terms of clinical and research skill sets, including biostatistics, epidemiology, economics, psychology, sociology, and disparities research. Physician and nurse researchers provide clinical expertise and insight into medical decision-making, communication, and translating guidelines into practice.

Visit our Investigators page to learn more.

HEROIC investigators provide key services as the local, regional and national levels, including dissemination of research products, serving on scientific review committees, offering health services research support, developing partnered research initiatives with our partners, overseeing demonstration projects, and supporting women's health initiatives in the VA.

To learn more about the training opportunities available at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System click here.


The HEROIC Grand Rounds and Works in Progress is a forum for all investigators interested in HSR&D research. The setting is used to present ongoing research or works in progress to either disseminate research data and outcomes or to receive helpful feedback from the HEROIC COIN scientific community for a project idea or a project that is currently in the works. ​​ 

The HEROIC Grand Rounds and Works in Progress forum meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month from 12 pm to 1 pm both online (in virtual format) and in person. The meetings are open to COIN faculty members, non-affiliated faculty members at MUSC or other institutions, and VA/MUSC trainees, including postdoc fellows and interns to present their research work. ​ 

If you are interested in presenting to our HEROIC Grand Rounds and Works in Progress or you would like to receive invitations and the current speaker schedules, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Santa Ana (COIN Associate Director) at: or Ms. Kayla Lamb (COIN Administrator) at: 

The Veterans Research Engagement Board is comprised of a team of Veterans of varying race, gender, and backgrounds who are interested in research at the Charleston VA Medical Center. The VREB is responsible for meeting with HEROIC investigators to review their research questions, provide research feedback, suggest research options and ideas, and point out concerns regarding various aspects of research projects. Information and feedback from VREB members is distilled into a summary format and often utilized directly into research proposals for review with the aim of research funding. Members of the VREB meet online voluntarily (e.g., using TEAMS virtual platform) once every two months for up to 120 minutes per meeting and non-Veteran employee VREB members are paid a small honorarium per meeting. The HEROIC COIN is interested in recruiting Veteran volunteers to serve on the VREB. An interest to serve on the VREB and an interest in research and its impact on the healthcare of Veterans is all that is required. 

Contact Us

For more information Contact Us at 843-789-7253. Contact numbers for interest in specific studies are located with the list of our Research Projects.