3M: $9m fine for allegedly selling faulty ear plugs to the military

Kaylah Jackson
July 26, 2018 - 5:24 pm

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3M, a Minnesota-based company that provides ear protection for service members has agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement for allegedly providing faulty ear plugs to the Defense Logistics Agency.

Members of the military commonly use the manufacturing company’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, version 2. A whistle blower alleges that 3M and its precursor company, Aero Technologies, Inc. knowingly sold earplugs that were too short for user’s ears. As a result, the earplugs could gradually loosen, rendering them infective for certain service members.

"Properly made safety equipment, for use by our soldiers, is vital to our military's readiness. Our agents will respond robustly to protect the safety of our military,” said Frank Robey, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's Major Procurement Fraud Unit, in a press release.

Everyone in the military knows that having your PPE or “personal protective equipment“ is important and one of those pieces of equipment is hearing protection.

Wearing faulty hearing protection, or not wearing it at all (which is quite common in the military), can often lead to hearing problems.

One of the most common hearing issues in the veteran community is tinnitus, that ringing or buzzing that you hear in your ears.  

James Henry, a research career scientist at VA Portland Healthcare System, says that tinnitus is the most common service connected disability award for veterans. It can be caused by chemicals or different drugs, but it’s most commonly caused by noise exposure, like blasts.

“In fact, as of Fiscal year 2107, there were over 1.6 million veterans service connected for tinnitus,” said Henry. “Around 80 percent aren’t particularly bothered by it, they might ignore it, whereas the other 20 percent who are irritated to the point that they need clinical services.”

Although 3M allegedly supplied the military with faulty Combat Arms earplugs, Susan Griest, also a specialist at the VA’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR), says that service members can’t be completely safe from sounds they experience.

“In a lot of the situations that service members are involved in to be able to protect that up level of noise like an explosion or an IED going off, the noise exposure is high enough that we don’t have any type of hearing protection that could completely put them at a safe levels,” said Griest.

That’s why after getting out of the military, resources like hearing aids can be helpful. When service members come home they are at greater risk for developing tinnitus or hearing loss.

For veterans who do suffer from hearing loss and/or tinnitus you can check out this VA fact sheet that details all of the audiology services available at the VA.

Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com