updated 1/29/2010 11:53:13 AM ET 2010-01-29T16:53:13

Republican Rep. Steve Buyer announced Friday that he will not seek re-election this fall and will leave Congress after 18 years because his wife is ill.

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Buyer choked back tears as he stood next to his wife, Joni, on Friday, saying she had been diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease.

"As part of her prognosis she has been advised to de-stress her life," he said. "Now is the time for me to step back. It's been an honor."

Buyer, 51, is the top Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He was the committee's chairman for two years before Democrats won the House majority in the 2006 election.

He has faced questions in recent months about a private scholarship foundation he created that had raised more than $880,000 since 2003 without awarding any scholarships. He has defended his handling of the foundation, but didn't mention it during Friday's announcement and didn't take any questions.

Buyer represents Indiana's heavily Republican 4th District, which stretches from the Lafayette area, through the western and southern suburbs of Indianapolis to Bedford. He won re-election in 2008 with 60 percent of the vote even as Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1964.

A possible Republican candidate for the seat is state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, who is Buyer's district operations director. Candidates face a Feb. 19 deadline to file for the May 4 primary.

Purdue University biology professor David Sanders, who lost badly to Buyer in the 2004 and 2006 elections, is the only Democrat to announce a campaign.

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