Joseph P. O'Connell, 57, an information officer at the Veterans Administration and a resident of the Washington area for most of his life, died of cardiac arrest Saturday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. h

Mr. O'Connell was born in Denver, and grew up there and in Washington. He graduated from Gonzaga College High School here and entered the Georgetown University Foreign Service School.

During World War II, he went into the Army as a private, was commissioned a lieutenant, and served in Europe with the 42nd (Rainbow) Infantry Division. He was an artillery officer and public affairs officer with that unit.

After the war, Mr. O'Connell completed his studies at Georgetown and then held various public relations jobs with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Army Times Publishing Company and the Office of Security of Defense. In 1953, he earned a master's degree in public relations at American University.

He worked in the public relations department of the American Trucking Association for a year and then, in 1954, was named assistant director of public relations of the American Legion. He continued in that post until 1959, when he joined the Washington office of the J. Walter Thompson advertising company. In 1967, he joined the office of information services of the Veterans Administration and remained there until his death.

Survivors include his wife, the former Mary Louise Healy of Bethesda; two daughters, Eileen Andary of Washington and Patricia Pearson of Vienna; three sons, Terence, Michael and Daniel, all of Bethesda; a brother, Edward C. O'Connell of Kensington, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Children's Hospital National Medical Center, Washington.