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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 Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D) Centers of Innovation (COIN) aimed at improving Veterans’ health and related healthcare needs through novel interventions. Led by a team of experienced investigators and clinicians, the Center’s mission is to develop and implement healthcare changes that improve the equity and accessibility of healthcare for vulnerable veteran populations, particularly those from demographic minorities and rural areas.

Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center Logo

History & Mission

Our History:

Ten years before HEROIC became a COIN, Charleston’s VA health services workers were funded by the VA HSR&D program. Initially, the organization was established as a Targeted Research Enhancement Program (TREP) from 2004 to 2008, and subsequently as a Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) from 2008 to 2013, but after significant growth in its collaborative team and an ever-stronger health services research presence in Charleston, HEROIC successfully competed for and was awarded designation as a COIN. Led by Director R. Neal Axon, MD, and Associate Director Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Santa Ana, PhD, 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 through tackling disparities in health services and improving VA’s operational effectiveness.

Our Mission:

HEROIC exists to develop and implement healthcare interventions to improve the equity and accessibility of healthcare for vulnerable veteran populations, particularly those from demographic minorities and rural areas. The COIN’s focuses can be divided into three areas: 

Health Equity: Improving equity in healthcare and reducing disparities in health outcomes through developing and implementing innovative, patient-centered, and culturally-tailored interventions.  

Access to Care: Increasing health services accessibility by developing initiatives that address the geographical, demographic, temporal, financial, cultural, and digital dimensions that influence access to care, as well as perceptions of treatment.   

Rural Health: Boosting health outcomes among rural Veterans through technology-based systems for administering health services.

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


Our Research

HEROIC researchers, with support from the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Institute of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), private foundations, and other agencies, are dedicated to providing health services solutions that give minority and rural Veterans access to quality care. Currently, the COIN is enrolling Veterans for studies investigating heart failure, the delivery of PTSD treatment, use of My HealtheVet for diabetic patients, mobile applications for caregivers of Veterans with dementia, housing stability for homeless Veterans with substance use disorders, lung cancer screenings, and perspectives on VA’s collection of race/ethnicity data.

Visit HEROIC’s Research Projects Page to Learn More.


Investigators & Staff

As a Center of Innovation, HEROIC’s greatest asset is the dynamic group of junior and intermediate researchers bringing new ideas and perspectives to VA. Our team is not just demographically diverse—with members spanning different cultures, ethnicities, ages, and genders—but also multidisciplinary. HEROIC’s researchers boast clinical and research skill sets across biostatistics, epidemiology, economics, psychology, sociology, and disparities research, and the Center’s physician and nurse researchers translate clinical insight into real world impacts.

Visit HEROIC’s Investigators Page to Learn More.

Training Opportunities

HEROIC investigators provide key services at the local, regional, and national levels, including disseminating research products, serving on scientific review committees, offering health services research support, developing partnered research initiatives, leading clinical fellowships, and supporting women's health initiatives in VA.

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


HEROIC Grand Rounds

The HEROIC Grand Rounds and Works in Progress is a monthly forum for all investigators interested in HSR&D research. Participants have the opportunity to present ongoing research or works in progress to either discuss data and results or to receive helpful feedback from their peers. ​​

The forum meets on the third Thursday of each month from 12 pm to 1 pm both virtually 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 postdoctoral fellows and interns.​

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

Veterans Research Engagement Board (VREB)

The Veterans Research Engagement Board is a diverse team of Veteran volunteers who consult with the Charleston VAMC to provide feedback on research projects. The VREB meets with HEROIC investigators to review the COIN’s research, provide critical feedback, suggest research options and ideas, voice concerns, and offer Veterans’ perspectives on HEROIC’s ongoing projects. Information and feedback from VREB members play a central role, with investigators often incorporating them directly into research proposals to ensure that new changes, programs, and interventions benefit the Veteran community as much as possible. Members of the VREB meet virtually once every two months, and non-Veteran, employee Board members are paid a small honorarium per meeting. HEROIC is actively recruiting Veteran volunteers to serve on the VREB, and the only requirement to serve on the Board is an interest in improving Veteran-centered research and care.

Our Affiliates

Contact Us

For more information, contact HEROIC at . Contact numbers for specific studies are located under the Our Research tab above.