US veterans are filing scores of lawsuits against 3M over defective earplugs that they claim led to their hearing loss and disorders after the company allegedly knowingly sold to the military.
3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs became the new standard issue for American troops in 2009, with promises that they would protect soldiers’ hearing so long as they were properly used.
But countless military personnel did suffer hearing loss and tinnitus, like Joseph Junk who described the constant ringing in his ears as ‘torture,’ in an interview with CBS.
Later examination of the earplugs revealed they did not seal properly, leaving wearers’ ears vulnerable to deafening helicopter and artillery sounds.
The military settled with 3M for $9.1 million – enough to cover the cost of purchasing the earplugs in the first place – in a lawsuit claiming the company knowingly sold defective products to the Department of Defense.
Yet the court did not rule that 3M was liable for damage suffered by people that wore the earplugs, leaving soldiers who sustained hearing loss without any compensation.
Now, military personnel are filing lawsuits to try to recover funds to help them get treatment for tinnitus and hearing loss.
The Combat Arms Earplugs made by 3M (pictured) were found to have a faulty design. Now, veterans are suing the company for causing their hearing loss and tinnitus
Joseph Junk says that as soon as a room is quiet, the ringing in his ears becomes loud. He is among the many veterans suing 3M over its earplugs
Tinnitus, a symptom of hearing loss, causes relentless ringing – or sometimes hissing, roaring, clicking, humming or buzzing sounds – that one hears even in silence.
It is also the number one cause of disability among US service men and women, affecting 2.7 million people who collect benefits from the US department of Veterans Affairs for it.
Tinnitus is still a rather mysterious symptom.
We know that the incessant sound is related to damage in the auditory system that connects the ears to the brain’s hearing system.
Exposure to too much loud noise damages the tiny hairs in the ears that sense sound waves and transmit them to the brain.
But from there it’s unclear why we hear the sounds we do.
Some research suggests the brain cells responsible for interpreting sound waves get the volume turned up on them, as a way of compensating for lost sensitivity.
Other research suggests it’s a sort of phantom sound phenomenon, in which the cause of that sound is gone, but the brain keeps experiencing it.
When it comes to veterans – especially those that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where unexpected explosions in close proximity are not uncommon – the skull and brain get compressed by violent shock waves.
This damages the areas of the brain that interpret sound signals, resulting in the perception of unending noise.
Earplugs are meant to prevent the damage that causes tinnitus by sealing up the ear canal to protect the eardrum and inner ear behind it, where the most critical nerves to our ability to translate sound are located.
3M promised the military – which in turn promised soldiers – that its flanged Combat Arms Earplugs would expand into the ears, and that a dial of sorts could easily be turned to close the wearable completely when soldiers were in the noisiest environments.
Earplugs should fit snugly in the ear and block sound waves from reaching the eardrum and inner ear, but Junk and others are alleging that the products failed them (file)
But as combat veterans continued to return home with hearing loss, the military investigated the design of the earplugs.
It alleged that the earplugs were not long enough to stay where they ought to in the ears in some people and, furthermore, that 3M had actually known that the plugs had this flaw when it sold them to the US military.
The military won the suit, and 3M paid out $9.1 million to the US Department of Defense. But the case didn’t tackle the question of whether or not 3M was liable for the injuries of individual soldiers.
Beginning in January, soldiers have begun filing a spate of their own lawsuits against 3M.
Nothing will cure soldiers’ tinnitus, but the lawsuits at least give service men and women an opportunity to recuperate some funds to help pay for treatment with antidepressants – known to help with tinnitus – and hearing aids.