In this week’s Chats with the Chief video, VHA Chief of Staff Jon Jensen sits down with Dr. Rory Cooper, founding director of the VA Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL). The vision of HERL is to “create a world where all people with disabilities have unencumbered mobility and function so that they can fully participate in and contribute to society.”

It’s personal

In July 1980, Army Veteran Dr. Rory Cooper was stationed in Germany. While riding his bike one day, he was sideswiped by a bus and then hit by a truck. Because of the accident, Cooper uses a wheelchair. But this experience allowed him to empathize with his fellow Veterans and create accessibility solutions that are as patient-centric as possible.

Now, Cooper is one of the leading researchers behind some of the most cutting-edge accessibility technology coming out of VA. He and his award-winning team of researchers and students at VA’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) work on everything from wheelchairs that don’t require batteries to robotic arms that help Veterans perform everyday tasks.

They even create technology innovations for Veterans competing on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

A diverse team works different angles

Cooper says the idea for HERL started while he was in graduate school and researching for VA as a way to help break down the barriers that made accessibility innovations challenging and slow.

At first, it was just him and two graduate students. Now, HERL has almost 100 people on staff, ranging from physical therapists to senior scientists and students. The diversity of the team allows HERL to approach complex problems from multiple angles and develop solutions that have the most impact for Veterans and those who care for them.

Veterans are at the center

Cooper and his team are united under a single mission to serve those who were selfless in service to their country.

“The Veterans are great to work with,” he said. “It’s hard not to admire people who were young and healthy, by and large, and made tremendous sacrifices for our country. Whatever we can do to help them out, I’m honored to be on board.”

By VAntage Point Contributor

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Published on Jan. 26, 2022

Estimated reading time is 1.8 min.

Views to date: 1,544


  1. Sandra February 6, 2022 at 10:54 am

    They say they want to help disabled veterans what about those that are visually impaired? It seems the focus is limited to wheelchair veterans.

  2. Charless Hadden February 4, 2022 at 8:54 am

    It’s not just government buildings and offices that need this attention.Small entities are the cause of most of my trouble. Like my apartment manager changing the rules for special reserved parking for people with special needs. It used to be free and now they want $300 just to apply for new tenants and then there are things like the sheriff parking in my spot (clearly Marked) with their engine running and no one in the car, for hours so I have to walk about a half block through the snow and muck because of their lack of decency.

  3. Richard Taylor February 2, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    All talk and NO ACTION !!! I am so fed up with the Durham NC VA Hospital always using COVID as an excuse for INCOMPETENCE while they are ignoring our needs. If ANYONE actually reads these comments feel free to contact me IF you are ready to really help. I doubt anyone does read these because …well you know…COVID

  4. Dianne MacKay February 2, 2022 at 8:07 pm

    Mobility? The VA cares about Mobility?!!! Only if you can’t use the bathroom in your own home. Otherwise, they could care less if you’re mobile or not. -Disabled vet who had to buy my own wheelchair!!!

  5. Ronald Sharp February 2, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    Try giving disabled Veterans their entire retirement without penalty, it’s called chapter 61 and it passed congress in 2008, the VA USES A CIVIL WAR RULE FROM THE 1800 to short legless, armless, voiceless veterans of their full military retirement by offsetting it by amount of disability they receive,,,,,NO OTHER INDUSTRY IN THE UNITED STATES DOES THIS….EXCEPT TO OUR OWN …..and then defers to the southern lawmakers TO CHANGE THE LAW, BUT THEY DONT, GO FIGURE, THEY, whom block again and again to let combat disabled veterans have there military retirement without offset penalty……you suck VA

  6. Lisa January 30, 2022 at 7:31 pm

    HERL makes me want to hurl. It takes someone at the VA being hit by a truck to realize we need help? This is NOT a handicapped friendly world and the VA is no different.

  7. Steve M. Goldsmith January 27, 2022 at 5:33 pm

    That’s the way the VA is. They don’t care. All they care about are their bonuses. I’m also in a wheelchair.

  8. Kevin J Clark January 27, 2022 at 5:59 am

    On August 9th 2021 I was conducting Physical therapy at the VA clinic on Jefferson Street in Jacksonville Florida. The physical therapist told me to stand on my left leg while holding my right leg up and hold for approximately ten seconds. The next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor with the assistance of another therapist. The therapist told me my knee had buckled and I fell. Before I started the excercise I specifically ask the therapist should I hold on to the rail for support. He stated “no” that’s why I here to support you. I received no medical attention after the fall. I was sent directly home. I recieved several injuries due to the fall. I could really use some support and assistance. It has been very difficult for me.

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