People serving in the military will, at some point, be exposed to high-intensity noise of various types. Some may develop hearing loss, especially for high-frequency sounds, tinnitus – ringing in the ears, or both, as a result of their noise exposure.
Hearing plays a vital role in the performance of a soldier and is important for speech processing. Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant impairment in the military and can affect combat performance.
Military personnel is constantly exposed to high levels of noise and it is not surprising that noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus remain the second most prevalent service-connected disabilities.
“Much of the noise experienced by military personnel exceeds that of maximum protection achievable with double hearing protection.”
Unfortunately, unlike civilian personnel, military personnel have little option but to remain in noisy environments in order to complete specific tasks and missions.
It’s reported that the 2.5 million veterans receiving disability compensation at the end of the fiscal year 2003 had approximately 6.8 million separate disabilities related to their military service.
For the roughly 158,000 veterans who began receiving compensation in 2003, auditory disabilities were the second most common type of disability. These veterans had approximately 75,300 disabilities of the auditory system out of a total of some 485,000 disabilities.
The use of hearing protection devices and follow-up audiological tests have become the mainstay of prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.
“Hearing loss or tinnitus incurred or aggravated during military service may qualify veterans for services and financial compensation.”
Military Hearing Injuries
Hearing loss is a significant health and readiness issue for the US military since afflicted personnel exposed to hazardous noise are more likely to suffer additional hearing damage, and service members with hearing loss attrite at a higher rate from military service than those with normal hearing.
Noise remains a large public health problem with an estimated 1.3 billion people being affected by hearing loss. It ranks 13th globally as the cause of years lived with disability (YLD).
YLD is estimated by multiplying the number of incident cases in that period with the duration of disease and the weight factor which measures disease severity.
“In North America, it ranks 19th as the cause of YLD, in Central Asia, it ranks 15th and in Southeast Asia, it ranks 9th.”
The prevalence of hearing loss and tinnitus in the military population is greater than in the general public. Almost every soldier, sailor, airman, or marine will be exposed to hazardous noise levels at some point in their career.
The two most prevalent service-connected disabilities for veterans in the United States at the end of the fiscal year 2012 remain tinnitus and hearing loss, with tinnitus affecting 115,638 veterans (9.7%) and hearing loss affecting 69,326 veterans (5.8%). Hearing acuity is a key component of a soldier’s effectiveness on the battlefield.
“The presence of tinnitus and hearing loss can significantly impair a soldier’s ability to hear important acoustic cues or communication signals from the unit or the enemy.”
Sources of noise-induced hearing loss in the military
The sources of noise in the military are as varied as the activities carried out by the members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Sources of potentially hazardous noise are:
- Weapons systems and jet engines
- Other aircraft
- Communication systems
- Industrial-type activities also serve as sources of potentially damaging noise
Within the infantry, weapons emit high levels of noise. Many weapons emit sounds that exceed the maximum achievable protection that double hearing protection can offer.
The table below depicts the typical noise level emitted by different weapons.
|Type of weapons||Peak sound pressure level range (dB)|
|.410 Bore||151.0- 157.3|
|12 Gauge||156.1- 161.5|
|9 mm Luger||159 163|
|Light anti-tank weapon||184|
|Inside the armored vehicle, continuous noise||LAeq103 – 107|
*Adapted from Chen L, Brueck SE. Noise and lead exposure at an outdoor firing range – California. Health Hazard Evaluation report Sept 2011, and from Kramer WL. Gunfire noise and hearing. American Tinnitus Association. June 2002:14–15.
Military Hearing Loss – Pathophysiology and Protection
Double hearing protection means both earmuffs and earplugs are used. The US Department of Defense published a medical surveillance monthly report on noise-induced hearing loss and it was found that noise-induced hearing injuries were more prevalent among combat-specific occupations (41.2 per 1000 person-years of active component military service).
Injury from noise can occur in 2 main ways:
1. High level, short-duration exposure
Exceeding more than 140 dB can cause the delicate inner ear tissues to beyond stretch beyond their elastic limits.
This causes mechanical disruption of the stereocilia and direct damage to supporting and sensory cells. In such cases, the maximum sound pressure level (SPL) is more important than the duration of the exposure.
This type of acoustic trauma can result in immediate and permanent hearing loss.
2. Long term exposure to low-level noise
Facts About the Military Hearing Loss Claims and 3M Earplug Lawsuit
U.S. service members are often exposed to very loud noises from things like aircraft, artillery, guns, and explosives. Without some sort of ear protection, repeated exposure to these types of high-level noises will cause internal damage to the eardrums.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that 3M Corp. agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a whistleblower False Claims Act suit accusing 3M of knowingly selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military.
The settlement, filed in South Carolina federal court, was driven by allegations that 3M and its predecessor Aearo Technologies Inc. sold its Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the Defense Logistics Agency knowing they were too short to be properly inserted into a user’s ears.
The defective earplugs are dual-ended and can be used either as traditional earplugs or can be flipped into an “open” position to attenuate explosion sounds while still letting through quieter noises.
“The plugs would gradually loosen after being inserted in the ears and would fail to properly reduce loud noises.”
The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Aearo Technologies employees, including those who joined 3M after it acquired Aearo in 2008, knew about the design problems as early as 2000 when it completed testing of the earplugs.
3M’s CAEv2 earplugs were standard equipment for certain branches of the military between 2003 and 2015, and the only available option to military personnel for attenuation earplugs between 2003 and 2012.
In April 2019, an MDL was established for the 3M Combat Arms Earplug cases in federal court in Florida, and as of March 2020, more than 6,800 lawsuits were pending.
Not only did 3M/Aero knowingly sell these defective earplugs to men and women in uniform, but it also prevented other companies from selling more effective competing products.
3M launched patent infringement litigation in 2012 aimed at Moldex-Metric’s BattlePlugs, which are now being purchased by the military. The lawsuit ended with a ruling in favor of Moldex.
3M Earplug Lawsuit – Military Hearing Loss Claims
Thousands of veterans and current military service members may be entitled to receive financial compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus caused by defective earplugs. The Combat Arms Earplugs were manufactured and sold by 3M to all 4 branches of the U.S. military.
3Ms dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs may have caused thousands, if not millions, of our soldiers to suffer hearing loss and tinnitus, and the pain and suffering that comes with these conditions.
From 2003 to 2015, these 3M earplugs were standard issue equipment intended to protect service members from hearing loss. 3M had an exclusive contract with the U.S. military via the U.S. Department of Defense.
The company admitted, however, that the earplugs were defective and actually did nothing to protect soldiers from significant hearing loss, subjecting them to the risk of deafness.
The Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) was supposed to protect users by filtering peak level noises. The 3M earplugs were dual-sided. One side went into the ear to dampen peak level sound waves from things like ordinance fire and explosives.
The other side of the earplug was designed to sit just outside the ear canal to act as a filter blocking continuous high-level noises from things like aircraft and vehicles.
The Combat Arms Earplugs had a design defect that rendered them completely ineffective at blocking sound for some users.
“The problem with the Combat Arms Earplugs is that side that was supposed to fit into the users’ ear canal was not the right length and was not properly shaped.”
As a result of this subtle design flaw, the earplugs did not properly fit into the ear canal. Almost immediately after the plugs were inserted into the ear they would loosen leaving the user entirely unprotected from damaging high-level sounds that were bound to cause many significant hearing problems.
What made this problem worse is that users frequently did not even realize that the earplugs were loose. Many service members wore the defective Combat Arms earplugs on a daily basis for years not realizing that they did not have the proper insertion to protect the users’ ears from inner ear damage.
Typical victims are veterans between the ages of 30 and 49 who served in the Army and allege a combination of tinnitus and hearing loss. Johnson Law Offices provides free calls, inquires, and emails from victims with hearing issues seven days a week about these claims.
“In the 3M CAEv2 earplug lawsuits, it’s our turn to fight for the same brave men and women that have fought to protect us all!”