Veterans Sue 3M Over Defective Ear Plugs

US Military's Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Crisis Intensifies

Veterans are suing 3M over defective earplugs that they say are responsible for causing permanent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus during their service.

Last summer, 3M paid $9.1 million to the US government to settle a Department of Justice lawsuit claiming the company sold the government thousands of military earplugs between 2003 and 2015 that the company knew had "dangerous design defects." Now hundreds of military veterans are lining up to sue the company for permanent damage to their hearing claiming their ears were damaged by the ineffective earplugs.

The veterans contend that 3M’s dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs issued to service members didn't fit properly and allowed dangerously loud sounds to slip through without the wearer knowing.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs

3M Combat Arms Earplugs

The lawsuits allege 3M knew about the problems before the company sold its Combat Arms earplugs to the government and failed to warn users about defects and failed to provide proper instructions on earplug insertion and use.

Noise-induced hearing loss an ongoing military crisis

Military personnel are exposed to unusually loud sounds on a regular basis, and in combat, explosions and other sudden noises can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.

In fact, noise-induced tinnitus and hearing loss are the number one and two ailments in former military personnel reported by the Veterans Administration. In 2016, Veterans Affairs said it treated more than 1.5 million cases of tinnitus and more than one million cases of hearing loss.

Next-generation hearing protection

Some forms of hearing protection dampen so much sound that they inhibit communication in the field and mission readiness. Next-generation electronic hearing protection addresses this problem with active sound filtering.

By incorporating hearing aid technology, next-generation electronic hearing protection amplifies desirable environmental sounds while automatically reducing excessively-loud sounds—including sudden impulse noises like gunshots.

But new technology alone cannot guard against products that don't work as advertised. According to one of the veterans' lawsuits, before selling the earplugs to the military, 3M's own testing "revealed that the Combat Arms Earplugs were defective, and would not achieve the specific NRR (noise-reductions ratings) advertised."

How to connect with other veterans with hearing loss

Did you know that the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) now has a virtual chapter for veterans with hearing loss. It's a great way to connect with other veterans, find support, ask questions, etc. The Veterans Across America Virtual Chapter meets monthly - see the HLAA calendar for details.