The Post's May 20 story headlined "GAO Faults Procedures at VA Hospitals" was prepared while the Veterans Administration was prohibited by the GAO itself from discussing its report prior to public release.

Although it is difficult to perceive either from the language of the GAO report or from The Post's story, this audit does not question the actual quality of medical care that VA delivers, nor does it accuse the VA of hiding patient deaths and injuries.

During a Capitol Hill press conference held the same day The Post story appeared, GAO Assistant Comptroller General Richard Fogel clarified for the benefit of reporters that GAO ". . . did not investigate or attempt to assess the actual quality of {VA} care." He went on to point out that VA care should be considered to be "no better or worse than any other."

VA readily concedes that it, along with the rest of the health-care community, can do more to implement systems and mechanisms that scrutinize how well we perform. Many of the GAO recommendations already are being implemented through our own initiative, and we will clearly do more to ensure that our patients and the public have a continuing basis for confidence in the quality of VA medicine. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the VA has been and continues to be the most thoroughly examined health-care provider in the nation.

All of our facilities are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals -- the nationally accepted seal of approval for hospitals. In addition to this (and several other medical professional reviews) we are subject to quality assessments conducted by Congress and by the community of veterans' service organizations. We conduct many rigorous internal review programs. All of what we do is visible and on display.

To the extent that the GAO report says we can do a better job analyzing data we collect, I agree. We are moving forward with innovative technology to help us do that. However, one overriding message should remain clear: we have not and we will not stint on the quality of the care we provide.

THOMAS K. TURNAGE

Administrator, Veterans Administration

Washington