Military Matters: Army veterans with hearing loss sue earplug manufacturer

Military Matters: Army veterans with hearing loss sue earplug manufacturer

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Thousands of soldiers have permanent hearing loss, and now many are pointing the finger at a manufacturer of earplugs.

A Columbus law firm has hundreds of clients who are filing suit against the company 3M, including a veteran we talked to who was impacted by the allegedly defective earplugs.

The sounds of military training and combat can be dangerously loud as Ulrick John remembers. He was in the Army for more than 20 years and was deployed to Iraq twice.

“Those earplugs were part of our equipment, part of our uniform, wore them in a little green box,” John said. “Because that's what was issued, yes I thought that would protect me...just like my kevlar, I thought that would protect me.”

But attorney Ben Finley, who started The Finley Firm in Columbus, says these 3M-manufactured combat earplugs, that Ulrick and countless soldiers wore from 2003 to 2015, did not work like they were supposed to, causing permanent disabilities instead.

“It's hearing loss. It's also tinnitius, which is a constant ringing in the ears. It never goes away,” Finlay said.

Ulrick has that ringing in his ear and is forced to wear hearing aids. He is one of 1,400 clients nationwide, many who served on Fort Benning, filing lawsuits against 3M. It started years ago when he went to the doctor.

As he showed us his hearing aids, Ulrick tells News Leader 9: "From that hearing test, I have these which I wear every day all day."

"People say, you're only 46 years old, why do you have to wear hearing aids. I tell them, because of all the explosions that we've been through in Iraq, even the training I've done on Fort Benning."

Last summer, 3M agreed to pay 9.1 million dollars, in a dispute over the so-called defective earplugs...but that settlement was with the federal government. Now, veterans are lining up against the company, for what Finley calls shamefully putting soldiers in harm’s way.

"We're here to fight for them against 3M in the same way they've been fighting for us,” Finley said. "They (3M) knew it was defective but they were trying to be awarded a government contract to be able to provide this to the U.S. Army."

Finley added, "3M put corporate greed and profit ahead of human safety and lives."

The company, not commenting on specific litigation, sent us this statement:

"3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world. We have a long history of serving the U.S. military, and we continue to sell products, including safety products, to help our troops and support their missions."

But Finley says, with the combat earplugs, they instead “falsified documents, falsified their own testimony, perpetrated a fraud on the federal government."

"I hope that...they pay the price, whatever that may be,” John said.

A decision will be made in late March in Washington D.C. on whether all these lawsuits will be consolidated.

Allegations include 3M knew about the earplug defects since 2000, but still delivered around 6 million pairs total to the U.S. government, until they were discontinued in 2015.

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