About 6.6% of Americans are U.S. military veterans. The number in New Mexico is 10.5%. Clearly, issues that concern veterans are especially important in the Land of Enchantment. And because non-whites, especially Hispanics, are about 41% of the state’s veteran population, the honors and challenges of service are shared widely across our communities.

Thousands of veterans with hearing loss and the often-devastating condition of tinnitus have filed suit against a military contractor due to defective products sold to the Department of Defense. Their function was to protect the ears of servicemembers, but the lawsuits assert they failed in their mission, leaving U.S. veterans with permanent injuries and disabilities.

Combat Arms earplugs may have allowed serious injuries

From 2003 to 2015, servicemembers were issued Combat Arms earplugs, a double-ended device meant to dampen sound at two noise levels. Sold by 3M, the earplugs simply didn’t work, according to the suits, and the company did not include instructions to users to maximize their effectiveness.

The results apparently include hearing loss, tinnitus and in some cases loss of balance. While many often describe tinnitus as “ringing in the ears,” it can sound very different to different people and it’s common for the condition to be very damaging to the sufferer’s quality of life.

The American Tinnitus Association reports that 2 million Americans struggle with tinnitus that’s not only chronic but debilitating. Tinnitus can contribute to depression, anxiety, distress, frequent mood swings, sleep disturbances, poor concentration and both physical and psychological pain. Its economic cost to American society is over $26 billion every year, according to the ATA.

Thousands are filing suit seeking compensation

If you’re a veteran experiencing hearing loss and/or tinnitus, consider seeing a doctor about your condition as well as discussing your experience with a qualified attorney about your options for seeking legal remedies.

The Department of Defense took one of the early legal actions against 3M under the False Claims Act, alleging that the company knew it was selling earplugs with defects likely to endanger servicemembers. The company settled the suit, paying $9.1 million to resolve allegations.

Since then, thousands of veterans across the country have joined lawsuits in ongoing litigation. Court filings suggest the company’s employees may have known about the defects as early as 2000 and, despite their own test results, falsified documents to make the earplugs appear to meet Defense Department standards.