What is tinnitus?
As a hearing condition, tinnitus can affect one or both ears and involves permanently or intermittently hearing a ringing sound, as well as a pulsating, roaring, chirping, whistling, clicking, or whooshing sound in your ears. While there are multiple causes of tinnitus, it mostly occurs after the person was exposed to loud noises for a long period of time. Veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 are the occupational group at the highest risk of developing tinnitus, but people who work in loud job settings, such as construction sites, can experience it too. A damaging noise is one that is 85 decibels or more. According to recent medical studies, up to 36 million people suffer from tinnitus in the United States. In other words, 1 in 5 individuals has tinnitus, whose main cause is working in a job that involves loud noise. There are two forms of tinnitus:
- Subjective tinnitus. This involves sounds that only the patient can hear and is also the most common type. It usually develops as a result of trauma to the ear and can be caused by outer, middle, or inner ear problems. Another cause of subjective tinnitus is damage to the auditory nerve or to the part of the brain that controls hearing.
- Objective tinnitus. This involves tinnitus that doctors can also hear by using the naked ear or with a stethoscope. It is very rare and it is usually the cause of a problem with a blood vessel, a problem with the inner ear or muscle contractions.
In addition to being exposed to loud noises in military settings or on the job, subjective tinnitus may have the following causes:
- external ear infection
- earwax impaction
- hearing loss related to aging
- a tumor within the ear
- lead or mercury poisoning
- certain antibiotics
- excessive use of aspirin
- chemotherapy drugs
- loop diuretics
- multiple sclerosis
- head injury
- thyroid disease
- psychiatric disorders
- migraine headaches
Why are 3M Combat Arms earplugs defective?
The majority of people serving in the military between 2003 and 2015 were given 3M Combat Arms earplugs to protect them from the loud noises they would often hear while on duty. These earplugs were dual-ended, with green or yellow plugs, designed to offer two levels of protection. Wearing one side would block out loud noises, whereas the exterior side would filter our loud noises such as gunfire while members of the military were still able to hear what other people were saying. However, the earplugs could not hold tight within the ear, as the part that should have been fitted in the ear canal was too short. The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies Inc. and the company had the exclusive contract to supply earplugs to the military. In 2008, 3M acquired Aearo Technologies Inc. and continued to supply the Defense Logistics Agency with defective earplugs until 2015.
The earplugs were given to multiple branches of the military, including the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, the National Guards and the Reserve. Because they had a faulty design, the earplugs caused military personnel to be only partially protected from loud noises, which subsequently led to veterans developing tinnitus and other hearing disabilities. According to estimates, the military received 15,000 earplugs packages every year, with every package containing 50 pairs of earplugs, which means that millions of members of the military were injured by the defective product. Suffering from a hearing disability can greatly impact your life quality, which is why the responsible company needs to be held liable for negligence. Furthermore, hearing disabilities can lead to a series of other distressing health problems, such as sleep disorders, fatigue, anxiety, concentration problems and memory problems.
What loud noises were people exposed to in the military?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans who served during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are four times more likely to develop major hearing damage than the general population. Because the defective 3M earplugs failed to properly shield military personnel against the loud noises they were constantly exposed to, the company is facing thousands of claims at the moment. To make matters worse, the defective 3M earplugs may still be provided to military personnel today, as they were never recalled and may still be sold to the military by other vendors who are not aware of the faulty design of the product. It is estimated that 800,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans may have been injured by the 3M defective Combat Arms earplugs. One of the most common loud noises people who were members of the Army would hear was the sound of a .45 to .70 caliber rifle, which emits sounds ranging from 155.2 to 155.9 dB. The following are some of the other loud noises veterans who served in the Army may have been exposed to on a regular basis:
- hand grenade: 158 dB
- 20-gauge shotgun: 8 dB
- 12-gauge shotgun: 156.1-161.5 dB
- .22 pistol: 151 dB
- 9 mm Luger: 169-163 dB
- Light anti-tank weapon: 184 dB
As for Navy veterans, they would be exposed to the loudest noises in the engine room, ranging between 98 to 160 adjusted decibels (dbA), which is significantly above the OSHA permissible limit of 90 dBA. While carrier decks generated the loudest noise, landing ship tanks and patrol vessels were the quietest.
People who served in the Air Force were also exposed to loud noises on a daily bases, usually stemming from aircraft. The following are the loudest noises veterans who served in the Air Force were constantly hearing:
- service helicopters: 97-100 dbA
- fighter planes: 97- 104 dbA
- jet trainers: 100-106 dbA
- transporter aircraft: 88-101 dbA
Furthermore, pilots were often exposed to chronic loud noise in aircraft over time, which may eventually lead to hearing impairments. While high noise levels were expected by numerous members of the military, they should have been provided with adequate protection against it. Unfortunately, because the defective 3M earplugs were used by military personnel for so many years, more and more veterans will come to struggle with a form of hearing impairment in the forseable future.
The companies that manufactured defective Combat Arms earplugs
If you came to struggle with tinnitus as a result of military service, gathering pertinent and solid evidence of your tinnitus may be challenging, as the health issue is not a visible one. However, if you work with a lawyer who specializes in acoustic trauma claims, they will be able to gather sufficient proof for your case, which will guarantee a favorable outcome. After you are examined by a medical specialist, also known as an audiologist, for tinnitus and receive a positive diagnosis, we strongly encourage you to take legal action, as you are eligible for compensation. With over 25 years of professional experience, our skillful attorneys will recover the maximum compensation available from the liable company for you.
While 3M was the primary manufacturer of Combat Arms earplugs, supplying military personnel between 2003 and 2015, there were other companies responsible for producing defective earplugs, such as the following:
- Insta-Mold Products
- Custom Protect Ear Inc.
- E.A.R. Inc.
- Equipment Direct, Inc.
- Tasco Corporation
- Moldex-Metric Inc.
- Gateway Safety, Inc.
- Evergreen International Group LLC
What other health issues can the use of defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs cause?
Although tinnitus is the most common health problem using defective earplugs during military service can lead to, there are other medical issues related to hearing that employing this product can lead to, such as the following:
- permanent hear loss
- hearing impairment
- auditory processing disorder
- acoustic neuroma
- conductive hearing loss
- sensorineural hearing loss
- auditory neuropathy
- mixed hearing loss
In the unfortunate case that you developed one of the above hearing conditions as a consequence of using 3M Combat Arms earplugs, please contact our law firm for a free of charge case review. Regardless of the health problem you have, we will provide you with quality legal assistance and help you recover fair compensation for your injury.
How can you prove a tinnitus case?
It is worthy of note that veterans can recover financial compensation both from the responsible company and from the VA, in the form of disability compensation. Veterans who developed a hearing disability as a result of the defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs can file a claim with the assistance of a specialized attorney with the VA to receive the money they deserve. However, before filing a claim, there are several aspects you need to explain to your attorney, such as the following:
- make a list of every incident of significant noise exposure you can remember, such as grenade blasts, artillery rounds, simulators, constant machine-gun fire or spending years around loud jet or tank engines
- state the approximate moment when you remember your hearing problems began
- if your hearing problems started while you were serving, explain why you were unable to seek medical treatment by describing the reality of military service to bureaucrats, namely that no soldier, sailor or airmen was going to stop a mission or training to help you with a condition that almost everybody was experiencing
- determine the chronicity of your hearing issues by explaining that you have had this health problem since you were exposed to loud noises during your military service
- identify the frequency of your hearing problem by noting how often you experience it
- explain how severe your hearing problem is and whether it prevents you from performing daily activities or your work
The VA standards for disability for hearing problems are determined by the test results of speech recognition. There will be a series of medical tests and exams you will need to undergo before you can become eligible for filing a disability compensation claim, such as the following:
- speech recognition testing
- puree tone audiogram
- acoustic reflex test
- otoacoustic emission test
- hearing test
To apply for disability compensation, you will also need a nexus statement, which is a document from your doctor explaining how your hearing problems are related to your military service. The letter will include aspects such as whether you worked near loud noises such as on a flight line or worked with or near explosives or gunfire. This document is of utmost importance, as without it, you will not be able to file a claim for disability compensation. Therefore, the only documents you will need to send your attorney are your military records, as well as your medical records, which must be accompanied by your nexus statement. Afterward, they will efficiently take care of the remaining legal aspects.