Hearing Loss and Veterans: Know Your Rights
Hundreds of military personnel are expected to file civil complaints against the 3M Company after the 2018 settlement in the 3M Earplug Lawsuit in favor of the U.S. Military, in which it was alleged that the company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the military for over a decade and resulted in the 3M Company agreeing to pay $9.1 million.
Many servicemen and women believed their hearing loss problem was par for the course until the case filed under the qui tam (whistle-blower) provisions of the False Claims Act, made the headlines and the extent of the problem came to light. 3M allegedly was aware that testing procedures and fitting instructions were unlawfully manipulated before selling them to the government, without disclosing the design defect.
These defective combat earplugs were sold as early as 2000 and can result in hearing loss or tinnitus. While most cases occurred between 2003 and 2015, service members that believe their hearing protection just outside of those dates may also have an argument.
Tinnitus and hearing loss in the military
Hearing loss is not an evitable cost of war, and it should not be. Hearing is a vital asset during tactical and survival training and combat, however, due to the nature of the profession, exposure to noise is inevitable, and prevention of hearing loss is key.
Military personnel are constantly exposed to high levels of noise, often for extended periods and combat can increase the risk six-fold. For this reason, service members should expect the 3m combat arms earplugs to work as intended to protect those who protect the country.
What do the studies say?
1. Impact of noise on hearing in the military
In this study, published in Mil Med Res in 2015, the authors evaluated the sources of noise in the military, pathophysiology, and management of patients with noise-induced hearing loss.
While noise-induced hearing loss is a major preventable disease, military personnel are constantly exposed to high levels of noise which mostly exceeds normal volumes. They have little option but to remain in these environments to complete their missions or tasks, so they deserve to have earplugs that work as intended.
Sources of noise-induced hearing loss include:
Land force – sources vary with designations, and Fighting in Built-up Area (FIBUA) training, shooting with large-caliber weapons and military exercise participation were found to be the strongest determinants of hearing loss. The US Department of Defense found noise-induced hearing injuries more prevalent amongst combat-specific occupations.
According to OSHA 2014 Standards permissible noise exposure in the workplace measured in duration per day (hours) based on sound level (dBA), ranges from 8 hours for 90dBA, 2h for 100dBA, 1⁄4h or less for 115dBA (full table available at link). The company alleged that 3m earplugs protected against noises greater than these that the military would encounter.
- Rifles: 155-163dB
- Shotguns: 151-161dB
- Pistols: 151-163
- Hand grenade: 158
- Light anti-tank weapon: 184
- Continuous noise inside armored vehicle: 103-107
As stated, Peak Sound Pressure Level of different weapons are much higher:
Navy – highest indoor noise levels in the engine rooms, landing ship tanks and patrol vessels at 98-103dB, missile gunboats 120 dB, and on carrier decks from 130-160dB
Air Force – service helicopters Gazelle 97, Scout 99.8, Puma 99.9, Lynx 100 and Black Hawk 106dB. In fighter planes 97-104, jet trainers 100-106 and transporter aircrafts 88-101. Pilots exhibit hearing impairment due to chronic exposure.
Clinical presentation includes temporary threshold shifts, tinnitus, hyperacusis (increased sensitivity), recruitment, distortion, and abnormal pitch perception. Prevention is still regarded as the mainstay of treatment.
2. Hearing loss associated with US military combat deployment
In a study published in Noise & Health, Timothy Wells et al defined the risk of hearing loss among US Military members in relation to their deployment experiences. They used data from the Millennium Cohort Study and Objective Military Service Data to assess exposures and outcomes. In many cases, the ear canals of soldiers were not properly protected by the 3m combat arms earplugs and resulted in hearing loss or tinnitus for many individuals.
The study found that combat experience was associated with a 63% increased risk for hearing loss, and that hearing injury was more likely to be reported if exposed to a blast or suffering combat-related head trauma. The department of veterans’ affairs must work with law firms to ensure service members are properly compensated for any damage they received while working.
You must act now to protect yourself
The timeframe for claiming justice and restitution is diminishing by the day – statutes of limitation apply, so you need to file now if you have suffered loss or damage.
Call Eileen Kroll, a registered nurse and attorney, at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. at 1-866-MICH-LAW (1-866-466-9912) or complete the online contact form for a call-back and free case evaluation consultation.