ATLANTA — The popular, 91-year-old head of Georgia’s Department of Veterans Services and the longest-serving state official remains hospitalized, but his staff said Friday it’s only temporary.

Pete Wheeler, a retired brigadier general who’s served under a dozen governors, signed a memo Aug. 18 turning over daily operation of the department to Assistant Commissioner Mike Roby “while I am on medical leave for a short while and until I return.”

The department released a statement Friday that Wheeler is receiving treatment at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Decatur. No other details were available on the reason or his condition, but spokesman Jon Suggs said the absence was short-termed.

Wheeler served in the U.S. Army Infantry as a stateside instructor during World War II and retired from the Georgia Army National Guard in 1978. He holds two law degrees but has spent his career at the state for 65 years so far, making him the longest-serving state employee.

Although he has slowed somewhat in recent years and now requires a wheelchair, he is frequently seen at meetings around the Capitol.

“There is no doubt he is a fighter as evidenced by his long-time service to our nation, our state and to millions of veterans over the many years,” said Al Lipphardt, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Georgia. “This state enjoys a well-deserved reputation of supporting veteran issues due to the courageous leadership of Commissioner Pete Wheeler.”
He also served on many national organizations, including a presidential appointment to chair the board overseeing construction of the World War II Memorial in Washington.

“He’s the best-kept secret in our state,” said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “A half a century later and he’s still serving.”
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