CW: War. The following information includes words or phrases that may cause a traumatic response for some readers.
For decades, the Department of Defense has implemented hearing conservation programs and made efforts to protect the hearing of its servicemen and women. Considering the ability to hear is critical for the safety of combat soldiers, it makes sense that protection is a priority.
Back in 1948, the US military launched its first hearing conservation program. Since then, the number of combat noise-related hearing injuries has declined but it remains the number one injury sustained by veterans and active-duty members. Let’s examine why that might be.
Don’t They Get Protection?
Sure they do. Hearing protection has been part of soldiers’ standard issue equipment since 2004. The problem is that when equipment isn’t worn or worse, when it’s faulty, it doesn’t do its job. This is the case with the 3M combat arms earplugs (CAEv2) that were distributed to active-duty servicemen and women between 2002-2015.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of the US Government by the company Moldex Metric alleged that 3M knowingly sold and profited from defective earplugs. While 3M never admitted violating the False Claims Act, they did settle with the government for about $9 million in 2016, 8 years after the claim initially came to light.
The government no longer contracts with 3M to provide dual-ended combat earplugs, but what about the thousands of soldiers who sustained permanent damage because they weren’t aware their protective equipment was damaged? Well, something to the tune of 200,000 of them have filed lawsuits of their own.
So far, 10 cases have completed litigation and half of those resulted in significant payouts to the victims. These veterans, with the help of an injury law attorney who specializes in these matters, successfully argued that they sustained hearing loss and/or tinnitus that is directly related to 3M’s faulty product.
A central court in Florida is overseeing the remainder of the lawsuits but the hope is that 3M will grow tired of paying out millions of dollars to individuals and come to a settlement for everyone involved.
What Else Can Soldiers Do About It?
If you’ve already sustained damage, you can file your own lawsuit. If you haven’t, you can take steps to conserve your hearing by wearing suitable protection.
There’s certainly more than one situation that calls for earplug usage, but generally speaking, they’re used for hearing protection. For those in combat situations, noise exposure is guaranteed.
Nearly every facet of combat life involves unsafe exposure to loud noises. Machine guns fire at 140dB, fighter jets produce nearly 160dB, and rocket launchers explode at 180dB. For reference, speech falls around 60dB. Anything louder than 85dB is considered dangerous and at 120dB, sound becomes painful.
When you consider that it takes roughly 30 seconds of exposure to sound higher than 120dB for permanent damage to occur, it makes sense that hearing protection is a necessity. Some soldiers rely on flange or foam plugs while others use noise-canceling earmuffs. These are great if you don’t want to hear anything, but it’s certainly not to one’s advantage in a warzone to cut out all noise.
Soldiers rely on hearing for safety. They need to be able to hear footsteps and whispers in order to do their job so having hearing protection that reduces harmful noise while amplifying soft sounds is imperative. That’s why INVISIO has developed TCAPS.
Tactical communication and protective systems, or TCAPS, are digital earplugs specially designed for members of the military. They utilize the most advanced technology through bone conduction and microphones to intuitively adjust sound based on the wearer’s environment. For example, if there’s rapid gunfire but a commander is relaying a verbal message, the TCAPS will silence the gunfire while enhancing the voice. They’re also waterproof.
This technology isn’t new and it has been used in hearing amplification devices and headphones for the past 10 years or so. It is relatively new to the military, though, and studies have shown promising results. Despite the snafu with 3M, hearing-related injuries are still on the decline. It’s likely that these earplugs or something very similar will quickly become standard, required safety equipment for combat soldiers.
While this is great news for active-duty members, it doesn’t negate the fact that thousands of veterans have suffered permanent damage to their hearing. Technology has made enormous advancements over the last decade and those who require hearing assistance will find there’s no shortage of high-tech aids available to enhance their quality of life.