The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) are military hearing protection devices designed by Aearo Technologies and sold to the Department of Defense (DOD) in an exclusive-supplier contract later assumed by 3M when it purchased the manufacturer.
The adaptive design of the earplugs made them an appealing option for soldiers who needed to protect their eardrums from loud noises accompanying service. However, defects in the devices revealed themselves over time, generating thousands of cases of severe hearing impairment (SHI) in military personnel who counted on them.
In 2016, Moldex-Metric, Inc., a 3M competitor, blew the whistle on the fraudulent testing methods. Moldex claimed that the manufacturer had implemented fraudulent practices to sway the government into buying the defective earplugs, filing a lawsuit against 3M on behalf of the government under qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act
The case was settled in July 2018, with 3M agreeing to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government for the fraud.
The Innovative Promise of the Combat Earplugs
3M’s Dual-ended combat arms earplugs came across the DOD’s radar at a time when a disturbing trend was unveiling itself. Combat troops were experiencing hearing problems in significant numbers and levels of severity.
As it became glaringly clear that these hearing impairments were having a negative impact on performance, the DOD brought in audiologists to survey the problem and come up with solutions. The CAEv2 devices presented an interesting and innovative technological solution.
A Dual-Sided Solution
The chief differentiator with these military earplugs is their dual-sided design. Each side is color-coded, marking the level of noise protection afforded by inserting it into the ear. The olive-green side presents the blocked, or closed, position. With this side properly inserted, all sound is blocked, just as with a traditional earplug.
When the yellow side is properly inserted, the device acts in an unblocked, or open, position, reducing the volume of loud sounds, such as explosions, but allowing the sounds of spoken commands and approaching enemies to be heard.
With an attractive, low per-unit cost, the earplugs were an easy sell to the government. The CAEv2 earplugs are reusable and cost only $10 per pair. Under the terms of the 2006 contract, 3M supplied approximately 15,000 earplug packages each year, with 50 pairs of earplugs in each package, for a guaranteed price of at least $9 million for the year.
Becoming the Exclusive Earplug Supplier
In 2001, the DOD began distributing the 3m Combat Arms dual-ended earplugs to military personnel deployed to Afghanistan. Throughout the Iraqi theater, the CAEv2 earplugs were standard issue. By 2004, DOD supplied all soldiers with the earplugs; the U.S. Marine Corps ordered 20,000 pairs.
In 2006, the DOD signed an exclusive contract with the 3M company, making the manufacturer the sole supplier of earplugs to the United States military.
In time, a general awareness grew of the earplugs’ design defects — improper fittings that prevented a proper insertion from creating a full seal in the ear, thereby allowing noises of dangerous levels to penetrate the eardrum. Sadly, by this time, thousands of American veterans had already suffered permanent hearing loss, paying a high price for the manufacturer’s poor design and fraudulent methods.
Who Was Issued the Defective Earplugs?
The 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs served as protective hearing devices for U.S. military members from 2003-2015 and were used by every branch of the armed forces. Unfortunately, these earplugs were defective, resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus for many service people today.
The faulty earplugs were sold to military personnel by Aearo Technologies Inc. before being taken over by 3M Corporation in 2005, who continued to push out the product without making any improvements or addressing design flaws that presented a health hazard to servicemen and women using them while on duty. These issues must now be dealt with, and those impacted must not suffer in silence, but rather they should join legal actions aimed at holding the responsible companies accountable.
Hearing Impairment Ranks As a Top Disability Among Veterans
The impact of SHI extends well beyond an individual’s active military service. A look into data collected from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sheds some light on post-service occurrences of SHI among veterans.
The VA reports that 2.7 million veterans receive disability compensation and other benefits as the result of either hearing loss or tinnitus. These numbers are most likely a conservative estimate of the number of veterans who actually suffer from hearing-related disabilities, as VA can document only the existing conditions of people who have filed claims for disability benefits.
Further illustrating the problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that veterans stand a 30 percent greater risk of developing severe hearing impairment than nonveterans. In fact, hearing impairments constitute the single most common service-connected disability among military veterans, CDC reports.
Damage Goes Further than Hearing Impairment
Noise-induced hearing damage is one of the most common medical injuries among military personnel, as service members frequently experience noise levels far exceeding safe levels. Constant exposure to these loud noises without proper protection can cause irreparable damage to hearing and worsen PTSD symptoms.
When coupled with existing PTSD, this damage can have a profoundly negative effect on the quality of life among military personnel compared to the civilian population. Hearing loss can be particularly problematic for individuals suffering from PTSD due to the fact that it often leads to feelings of isolation and makes communication more difficult.
Hearing impairment can also lead to an increase in tinnitus – a condition that is often very distressing and can result in an increase in stress hormones that can exacerbate existing PTSD symptoms.
Seeking Compensation for Your Combat Earplugs Hearing Impairment
The dangerous noise levels involved in all branches of military service are well known. Instead of offering protection from loud noise exposure, this defective product has caused harm to tens of thousands of military personnel in the form of noise-induced hearing loss.
If you sustained a hearing impairment after using 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 while serving in the U.S. military, you can join the thousands of veterans who are filing lawsuits against the manufacturer to recover compensation for the medical expenses and losses caused by the faulty earplugs.
Zanes Law can help you understand your legal options and may be able to help you file a 3M defective earplug lawsuit. Contact us today for a free case review.