PRESS RELEASE: Jill Hanken, VPLC Health Attorney to Retire, VPLC Announces Scholarship Fund in Her Honor

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

The Jill A. Hanken Scholarship Fund will honor Hanken’s accomplishments and build upon her legacy by training health law advocates in Virginia’s legal aid community.

RICHMOND, VA – After a long and storied career of public service, advocacy, and leadership in healthcare for low-income Virginians, Jill Hanken, Health Attorney and Director of the Center for Healthy Communities at the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) and Director of ENROLL Virginia! has announced her retirement.

For over 40 years, Hanken worked at VPLC and paved the way for better healthcare in the Commonwealth. An expert in public benefits law and Medicaid, she became known early in her career as a knowledgeable and relentless advocate for low-income Virginians by state agencies, legislators, and partners who regularly relied on her for advice around improving public benefits programs.

“Whether arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, interpreting regulations, or explaining the unintended consequences of certain bills to legislators, Jill has always zealously represented the interests of low-income Virginians,” said Deborah Oswalt, Executive Director of the Virginia Health Care Foundation. “She has consistently ‘gone to the mat’ on behalf of those she serves, and while she has sometimes had to stay on that mat for multiple years, she has never given up until she has succeeded.”

Hanken began working to bring affordable healthcare to low-income Virginians in 1980. When the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2013, she created ENROLL Virginia!, a program that has helped thousands of Virginians find affordable healthcare in the new marketplace. Hanken’s tireless advocacy transformed the state’s healthcare landscape. She successfully spearheaded the five-year fight for Medicaid expansion and eliminated harsh rules that kept many Virginians, particularly legal immigrants, from accessing healthcare.

“Jill is the heart and soul of VPLC. She’s been a trusted advisor to legal aid attorneys in Virginia and around the country,” said Jay Speer, Executive Director of VPLC. “She will be sorely missed, but she has created a legion of legal aid attorneys and health care advocates to carry on her work to bring healthcare to all.”

“Jill’s work on behalf of lower-income Virginians and their families has changed thousands of lives for the better and has proven that even the most difficult goals can be achieved by someone who simply would not accept ‘no’ for an answer,” said Jack Harris, former Executive Director of VPLC, Legal Services Corporation of Virginia (LSCV), and Virginia Trial Lawyers Association (VTLA). “She is an extraordinary lawyer, teacher, leader, and friend whose innovative ideas and tireless advocacy, in the Courts, in the General Assembly, before administrative agencies, and in the larger community has often, against all odds, achieved great victories leading to vastly improved access to healthcare for millions of Virginians.”

During her time with VPLC, Hanken consistently shared her knowledge on health law and Medicaid with attorneys throughout the state legal aid network. “I was one of the hundreds of legal aid lawyers blessed to have Jill as a mentor and role model early in my career,” said Anne Holton, former First Lady of Virginia and former Virginia Secretary of Education. “She taught me health law, how to be a vigorous advocate, how to balance family and work, and so much more. Virginia’s families have benefitted tremendously from her work, and our Commonwealth is a better place for all because of her.”

To honor her work, VPLC and Hanken’s close friends and colleagues are establishing the Jill A. Hanken Scholarship Fund dedicated to training health law advocates in Virginia’s legal aid community.

“The Jill A. Hanken Scholarship program will create a legacy that will nurture future health law leaders within Virginia’s legal aid community, much as Jill has done during her 40 years at VPLC,” said Oswalt. “We intend for this legacy and tribute to her to live on for many years.”

More information about the Jill A. Hanken Scholarship Fund can be found at

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