The U.S. Attorney's office for Washington yesterday filed a $2.5 million lawsuit, seeking to recover funds and collect penalties from Lois A. Pope, who pleaded guilty last year to taking money from the bank accounts of seriously ill elderly patients at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home.

Pope, 62, a former financial officer at the home, is now serving a two- to six-year prison sentence, which was imposed after she admitted stealing $173,000 from 32 patients. But in yesterday's suit prosecutors charged that she had taken an additional $379,000 from these patients and 16 others over four years.

In addition to seeking double damages for the $552,000 in stolen funds, the lawsuit asks for a $4,000 penalty under the False Claims Act for each of the 721 fraudulent transactions that Pope allegedly made.

"We're trying to send a message to government employes that we're going to do more than just put you in jail if you do something like this," said Royce C. Lamberth, chief of the civil division of the U.S. Attorney's office. "We're going to go after all the money you absconded with and then some."

At a congressional hearing last spring, Pope's case was cited by Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) as an example of the growing problem of abuse of the elderly. U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova told the panel that Pope, a grandmother herself, had "endeared herself to the weakest and most helpless" of the Soldiers' Home's patients to take their funds.

As patient finance officer, she was supposed to handle the personal funds of those too weak or confused to do so themselves. But she acknowledged when she pleaded guilty that she had stolen the money either by using patients' funds to buy blank money orders that she then cashed herself or by setting up joint bank accounts with them, from which she drew money out for her own use.

At that hearing Pope said she had cared very much for the old men.

"I think now I was simply afraid of being old and alone and unloved," Pope testified. " . . . I was trying to buy my family's affection with the things I thought they needed or wanted."

Prosecutors said Pope, of Annapolis, used the money to buy boats, luxury cars, and a house on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Pope had worked 14 years at the home, which is on North Capitol Street in Washington, before she was fired after an audit in late 1983.

Lamberth said yesterday that the government has promised to repay to patients or their families all the money Pope took, because she was dealing with them as a federal employe. He said he expects the lawsuit will force her to reimburse the government.

When Pope was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan she was ordered to repay only the $173,000 that she admitted stealing. According to the suit, she has not yet paid any of these funds.