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 earplugs’ adaptive design made it an appealing option for soldiers who needed to protect their eardrums from high-level sounds that accompany 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 settled in July 2018, with 3M agreeing to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government for the fraud.
3M’s 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.
The chief differentiator with these 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 noises, 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 DOD. 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.
In 2001, the DOD began distributing the Combat Arms 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 off on an exclusive contract with 3M, making the manufacturer the sole supplier of earplugs to the U.S. military.
In time, a general awareness grew of the earplugs’ defects — improper fittings that prevented a true seal in the ear, thereby allowing high-level noises to penetrate the eardrum. Sadly, by this time, thousands of American veterans had already paid the price for the manufacturer’s poor design and fraudulent methods.
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 a severe hearing impairment than nonveterans. In fact, hearing impairments constitute the single most common service-connected disability among military veterans, CDC reports.
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 their damages.
Zanes Law will do everything from A to Z to see you get the compensation you deserve through a 3M defective earplug lawsuit. Call us today at (833)-890-8329 for a free case review.