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The Minnesota headquartered 3M business produced the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs which were employed by armed services staff from 2003 to 2015 during combat and training exercises in order to protect staff hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing issues are one of the most frequent issues suffered by veterans so ear defense is a major worry for American soldiers. Based on different situations, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were designed to offer two different amounts of defense. The dual-ended earplugs have a design that is very recognizable. As
veteran hearing implies, they consisted of two outward facing earplugs, one green and one yellow.
When the yellow part was put into the ear, this was known as Weapons Fire mode. This level was created to provide normal hearing for peak situational alertness. It would allow soldiers to communicate, accept commands and listen to other important sounds in the battlefield whilst continuing to provide defense from top level noises such as gunfire and explosions. This would have been the desired level in combat situations.
When the green part was placed inside the ear, this was known as Constant Protection mode. Constant Protection was designed to block all sounds more thoroughly in order to provide complete protection. Per 3M, this mode is for high-level sustained sound situations such as those in tracked vehicles and air support. This mode may have additionally been used in many standard practice exercises and environments as well.
Claimed Hearing Issues
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were created for military usage and used widely by thousands of servicemen deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was made to let two different protection modes, Open Fire mode and Constant Protection mode. The applicable setting is determined by which part of the plug is placed inside the ear, yellow for Weapons Fire mode, green means Constant Protection mode. Weapons Fire mode was designed to allow for hearing speaking and communicating while maintaining protection from damaging sound levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection level blocked all noise more completely that was useful for staff operating in track vehicles, in air support or while regular training. Each settings were purported to block sounds up to a specific standard yet in current legal action, the government has claimed that neither mode of the ear plug complied with the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) that 3M claimed due to a non-reported manufacturing flaw.
$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
In July of 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that the company knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that declined the effectiveness of the hearing defense device. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2016 under the whistleblower part of the False Claims Act which allows private citizens to sue for the federal government when they believe that a defendant has represented false claims for government funds. In this case, the whistleblower was granted $1,911,000 for their part in the lawsuit.
Per the Department of Justice press release, the settlement resolved allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by marketing or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. Specifically, the U.S. alleged that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., were aware that the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs might come loose slightly and therefore did not work well for certain individuals. It was also claimed that this design defect was known to 3M but wasn’t disclosed to the Department of Defense.
Harm to Soldiers
If the claims about 3M are correct, thousands of servicemen might have used faulty earplugs that did not protect them as the product was supposed to. Based on the alleged design error, the earplugs could come loose while inside the ear unknown to the soldier allowing damaging sounds to find their way into the ear. Harmful noise levels may have serious and lasting effects which include partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a ringing inside the ears. Hearing loss is one of the most frequent afflictions suffered by active duty and former servicemen. Tinnitus, which may be debilitating, is just as prevalent. According to a research scientist with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were in excess of