3M Combat Arms Earplugs

3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were purportedly designed to protect a soldier’s eardrums from the sound of gunfire and explosions. For 12 years, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency issued millions of these earplugs to military personnel serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones.

But according to a whistleblower lawsuit prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the 3M Company knew that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were defective, placing thousands of soldiers at risk for permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.

Although the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit was eventually settled for $9.1 million, the 3M Company continues to deny the allegations.

How 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 Worked

3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., a manufacturer of personal protection and energy absorbing products headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before it was acquired by the 3M Company for $1.2 billion in 2008, hearing-protection products accounted for more than half of Aearo Technologies’ sales.

CAEv2 featured a dual-ended design so that either side of the device could be placed in the ear. The olive side worked like a traditional earplug. The yellow side, however, was designed to block potentially damaging concussive sounds from gunfire or explosions, while allowing the user to hear normal speech and other low-level sounds.

Dual-ended 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were standard issue equipment for  American soldiers serving in the following combat theaters between 2003 and 2015:

  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • North-West Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean
  • Syria
  • Yemen
  • Libya

3M discontinued the devices in 2016.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Whistleblower Lawsuit

That same year, one of the company’s competitors filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit alleging that 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were defective and placed users at risk for serious hearing loss.

Specifically, the complaint charged that the devices were too short and would loosen when used by certain individuals. Although a soldier might not notice the loosening, the inadequate fit would expose the ear to damaging sounds.

According to the lawsuit, 3M and Aearo Technologies were aware of these defects in 2000, but never informed the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.

The 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit was filed in accordance with the whistleblower provisions of the federal False Claims Act. Among other things, the Act allows a private party to sue a contractor or other entity on behalf of United States taxpayers for fraud committed against the federal government.

If such a case is successful, the whistleblower is entitled to a share of the financial recovery.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Settlement

In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the 3M Company would pay $9.1 million to settle the False Claims Act allegations involving CAEv2.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler said at the time.  “Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.”

It’s important to note, however, that the 3M Company never admitted to any wrongdoing when it agreed to settle the case.

What’s more, the agreement only reimbursed the federal government. As such, the settlement did not provide any restitution for military veterans suffering tinnitus or hearing loss caused by defective 3M Combat Arms Earplugs.

However, veterans wishing to recover compensation for combat-related hearing disorders may be able to obtain significant compensation through an individual  3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit.

Tinnitus and Hearing Loss Among Military Veterans

Military veterans, especially those who’ve served in combat zones, have significantly higher rates of tinnitus and hearing loss compared to the general public.

In fact, hearing-related disorders are the most common service-related disorders affecting United States military veterans today.

Veterans who suffer noise-induced hearing loss will likely experience worsening impairment over time due to normal age-related hearing loss. However, tinnitus can be far worse, as the constant ringing and buzzing in the ears has been linked to chronic headaches, mood changes, anxiety, insomnia, vision changes, and depression.

For that reason, effective ear protection is a must for soldiers frequently exposed to gun fire, IEDs, and mortar blast.

  1. Reuters (November 2007) “3M to buy Aearo Tech for $1.2 billion” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-3m-aearo/3m-to-buy-aearo-tech-for-1-2-billion-idUSWNAS257920071115
  2. 3M Company (April 2008) “3M Completes Acquisition of Aearo Technologies Inc.” https://news.3m.com/press-release/company/3m-completes-acquisition-aearo-technologies-inc
  3. DOJ (July 2018) “3M Company Agrees to Pay $9.1 Million to Resolve Allegations That it Supplied the United States With Defective Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs” https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/3m-company-agrees-pay-91-million-resolve-allegations-it-supplied-united-states-defective-dual
  4. Salem Audiology Clinic (N.D.) “Veterans Suffer from Hearing Loss and Tinnitus by the Millions” https://www.salemaudiologyclinic.com/veterans-suffer-from-hearing-loss-and-tinnitus-by-the-millions/
Last Modified: January 11, 2019

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