The Post misnamed its editorial "No to a Veterans Department" {Nov. 12}. It should have called the piece "No (Again) to the Veterans' Organizations." That would better describe a theme running through the paper's positions over the past few years.

The Post notes the "power of the veterans' groups. . . {behind} this reorganization plan" to create a new Cabinet department, and then declares the plan to be a bad idea. A Cabinet department would strengthen the voice of veterans, which The Post believes is "already too strong."

By what measure is the voice of any group of citizens found "too strong" in our government? The Post's measure -- the impact of veterans' programs on the budget -- omits important economic considerations, while ignoring fundamental, noneconomic factors.

In its budget overview, The Post says veterans' programs are excessive and disproportionate. This ignores the fact that over the past decade, the share of the federal budget devoted to those programs dropped by one-half, from 5 percent to 2.5 percent.

The Post objects to a new department of veterans' affairs because it would expand the size of the federal government, presumably meaning an increase in the budget for veterans' affairs at the urging of veterans' organizations. Both parties in both houses of Congress have all agreed that the plan to elevate the agency to Cabinet level would not result in increased costs to the government.

Further, The Post's argument ignores the last several years of deficit crisis, when the Disabled American Veterans, for example, urged postponement, reduction or elimination of a cost-of-living adjustment to veterans' entitlements, so long as it is applied to all federal programs.

More specifically, The Post states that "a lot" of free health care is provided to veterans without service-connected disabilities, even though they could afford to pay for it. This ignores the major reform in 1986, under which the VA provides free health care for non-service-connected problems only if a veteran's income falls below certain thresholds. Otherwise, the veteran must agree to pay the government the amount specified by the statutory reform.

The remaining budget complaint is that income support for poor veterans without service-connected disabilities is not supplied through programs for the "general population." But there is no claim that a transfer of program responsibility would save money because -- under long-standing VA rules -- eligibility determinations for non-service-connected pensions take into account benefits received from other government programs.

The Post blasts away at mistaken notions of budget busting in creating a department of veterans affairs. Yet it ignores the very important noneconomic considerations that have provided the primary impetus for Cabinet-level status.

Should those who fought in uniform at Normandy, Inchon or Khe Sanh be forever treated as just a part of the general population merely because they did not suffer a service-connected disability? The pact forged between government and those who serve in its defense is a lifetime distinction. If a veteran's luck runs out, government support associated with that service -- even though no greater in magnitude than that provided other ill, indigent or elderly citizens -- is an intangible benefit the importance of which cannot be underestimated.

The VA's elevation to department status would also markedly improve recruitment and retention of better people. The Post itself has highlighted VA discovery abuses in litigation over the fee limit, as well as allegedly erroneous VA claim denials, and used them to call for additional judicial review. But better people to manage the system would minimize the risk of such abuses and errors in the future.

Improved management capabilities might also open up opportunities for other government efficiencies. For example, the national defense function, notoriously strained in its procurement role, is further burdened by a health-care role. Consolidation of health-care services and facilities outside the Defense Department by an agency of equal rank with a related function and greater health-care experience is an idea ripe for consideration.

Finally, there is the fact that veterans and their dependents constitute nearly half of our citizenry. Their voice should be able to compete fairly for the ear of the president in the highest council of government. Strength in numbers should not be cause for concern in a democracy. When that strength finds its origin in military service, Cabinet rank can only symbolize encouragement for more Americans to consider what they can do for their country. -- Charles E. Joeckel Jr. The writer is executive director of the Disabled American Veterans.