3M Combat Arms Earplugs: Hearing Alert for Veterans

Hearing protection is standard issue for all active-duty service members, yet the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that hearing problems, including tinnitus, are “by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American veterans.”

Why would this be?

Part of the reason may be that the earplugs veterans used failed to provide the appropriate amount of protection.

That was certainly the case with 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs, which were distributed to active-duty military personnel between 2003 and 2015.

As a result of a whistleblower lawsuit, we now know that these earplugs were defective.

Worse, documents revealed in court show that the manufacturer—3M—knew they were defective, yet did nothing to warn service members of the danger.

Air Plugs

Symptoms of 3M Earplug-Related Hearing Damage

If you or a loved one worked in the military between 2003 and 2015 and wore 3M Dual-Combat Earplugs, watch for symptoms like the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Auditory processing disorder (APD)

Keep in mind that hearing loss—without treatment—can lead to other problems, including anxiety, depression, isolation, and reduced quality of life. Talk to your doctor right away about potential treatments.

Dual-Ended Earplugs Designed to Perform Two Functions

It was Aaero Technologies, Inc. that first developed the earplugs. (3M later acquired the company in 2008.) They were designed to serve two purposes:

  1. Block all sounds: When worn in the “closed” position (darker side in the user’s ear), the earplugs blocked as much sound as possible.
  2. Improve hearing: When worn in the “open” position (yellow side in the user’s ear), the earplugs reduced loud sounds such as explosions and artillery fire, yet allowed users to hear quieter sounds such as spoken commands.

At least, that was how they were supposed to work.

3M Earplugs Did Not Perform as Advertised

Employees from Aaero tested the earplugs in the year 2000. They stopped the test early because the earplugs weren’t performing well.

In the closed position, they weren’t blocking enough sound. In the open position, they were amplifying all sound rather than diminishing it.

The problem was that the earplugs weren’t fitting right. When worn in the closed position, they were loosening just enough to let in more sound than they should.

The testers conducted a re-test on the closed position. This time, they instructed study subjects to fold the flanges back before inserting the earplug into the ear. By doing this, they achieved the desired fit and adequate noise-reduction scores.

But the company never instructed military personnel to manipulate the earplugs this way. Nor did they do anything to fix the problems with the open position.

Instead, Aearo certified to the government that its earplugs met the requirements for noise reduction and proper handling instructions, even though they did not.

Aearo and later, 3M, sold these defective earplugs to the government for over 12 years. Military service personnel paid the price.

3M Pays Million-Dollar Settlement

The issue first came to light in 2016, when competing earplug manufacturer Moldex-Metric, Inc., filed a lawsuit claiming that 3M made false statements regarding the effectiveness of its earplugs.

The U.S. Department of Justice joined the lawsuit, and in July 2018, announced the 3M Company would pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective earplugs to the armed services.

Prior to that settlement, injured service members had no reason to suspect that their hearing loss or tinnitus might be caused by 3M and Aearo’s misconduct.

The window for joining the 3M Lawsuit is rapidly closing. If you or a loved one have suffered from hearing loss or other hearing issues after using 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Subscribe to our newsletter

The Service Connection

Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.

Skip to content