COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Local veteran Ulrick John is seeking justice after a set of military-issued earplugs left him impaired. He is one of thousands who claim a faulty device led to permanent hearing loss. 

A 2018 whistleblower case revealed that the company 3M supplied the United States with defective earplugs. According to the Department of Justice, 3M “sold these devices to the United States military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device.”

John answered the call of duty. He deployed everywhere from Kuwait to Iraq. He knew he might return with some battle scars; what he didn’t anticipate was that the very equipment meant to protect him would do quite the opposite. 

Like a helmet and boots, the dual-ended earplugs were part of the military uniform. The yellow side would block out all noise except for orders from a commanding officer. Flipped to the other side, all noise was blocked out. 

“They tell you: this will protect your head,” John said. “This will protect your body. This will protect this, this will protect that. And you go in with that confidence knowing that okay if I go to war or if I’m on the range, I’m protected by what the Army has given me.”

However, after twenty years of serving his country, the sound of “welcome home” for John was quieter. A standard medical exam revealed that he had sustained significant hearing loss.

Those tiny ear plugs came with some big consequences.  A set of hearing aids was hardly the “thank you for your service” John was expecting. 

Just as John fought for our country, now local attorney Ben Finley with The Finley Firm is fighting for him.

“These are young men and women who are fighting for our country… places like Afghanistan, overseas and in Iraq who have been trained daily to defend our country,” Finley said. “On a parallel track, individuals at a Fortune 500 corporation were designing a scheme to be able to profit financially from this without disclosing to it, without caring about the repercussions. So it’s simply corporate profit and greed over human safety and lives.”

They are now one of over 280,000 claims made against 3M — one of the largest mass tort litigations in U.S. history. Just last week, a Florida jury awarded $77.5 million to a veteran who said he suffered hearing damage as well, a verdict 3M plans to appeal. 

John may not be able to get his hearing back, but what he does want is justice — not only for him, but for all veterans paying the price each day for this faulty equipment.

“I don’t know how it’s going to look, I don’t know how much time it’s going to take,” John said. “But you have these businesses, you have these important people around Columbus or Georgia or all over the nation saying ‘let’s take care of our veterans.’ You even have people in the Senate saying ‘let’s take care of our veterans.’ That’s what I want… I want our veterans to be taken care of.”