A defense contractor has agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle claims that it furnished U.S. service members with earplugs that it knew were defective, the Department of Justice announced on Thursday. The settlement suggests that pure greed may be partly to blame for the military’s “silent epidemic” of hearing loss.

  • The Minnesota-based 3M Company and its predecessor company Aearo Technologies sold dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the Department of Defense, despite allegedly knowing that the plugs were “too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly,” according to the DoJ statement. The defects effectively rendered the earplugs useless.
  • According to Stars and Stripes, the Combat Arms Earplugs were fielded to thousands of service members who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2015, the same year a VA study concluded that more than 1 million veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss, while 1.6 million were being compensated for tinnitus.
  • “Today’s settlement will ensure that those who do business with the government know that their actions will not go unnoticed,” Frank Robey, the head of the Major Procurement Fraud Unit at the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command, said in a statement. “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.”
  • As of 2017, the Army was working to develop and field the upgraded Tactical Communications and Protective System (TCAPS)  wearable earplugs that would allow soldiers to communicate over radio while also shielding their ears against the din of weapons fire and military vehicles.

In the meantime, merely training with standard-issue weaponry can result in traumatic brain injury, which can sometimes lead to hearing loss. Unfortunately, there’s no protection for that.

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