Skip to Content

History and Partners

The Charleston VA Health Equity and Rural Outreach Innovation Center (HEROIC) is one of 19 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.


Charleston 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: improve equity in healthcare and reduce dispariities in health outcomes through 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 percieved need for care.  
  • Rural Health: improve health outcomes among rural individuals through examining the increased role of technology on access.

Prior to becoming a COIN, our VA health services researchers were continuously funded by the VA HSR&D program for more than 10 years, initially as a Targeted Research Enhancement Program (TREP) from 2004-2008, and subsequently as a Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP) from 2008-2013. After significant growth in our collaborative team and 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, Neal Axon, MD and the Associate Director, Elizabeth 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, reduce disparities and improve VA operational effectiveness.


HEROIC works closely with operational partners throughout the VA healthcare system, including:

  • Office of Health Equity (OHE)
  • Office of Rural Health (ORH)
  • Office of Informatics and Analytics (OIA)
  • Center for Minority Veterans (CMV)
  • Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (NCP)
  • National Center for PTSD
  • Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion (CHERP)
  • Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (CINDRR)
  • Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research (CeMHOR)
  • Affiliated VISN7 VAMCs in Atlanta, GA, Augusta, GA, Columbia, SC, Tuscaloosa, AL, and Birmingham, AL
  • VAMCs throughout the nation including Boston, Minneapolis, Palo Alto, Portland, and Pacific Islands

Work is also conducted with academic affiliates, including: