Hank Investigates: Poor Protection for Veterans?

They served and protected our country, but investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan found some veterans say safety equipment they were issued didn’t protect them. Hank investigates what thousands of vets are now calling poor protection.

The sounds of war they’re terrifying, dangerous and loud.

Army veteran Robert Manix knows. He protected U.S. troops and equipment in Afghanistan. Firing thunderous 50 caliber machine guns.

“You could feel it in your chest. Your whole body shakes,” Rob said.

For protection, he wore defense department standard issue helmet, flak jacket, and earplugs.

“They drill it on you to always have them on you to make sure you’re wearing them. They said, ‘Wear these, wear these, wear these,’” Rob said.

Rob and thousands of U.S. troops from 2003 to 2015 used the ear protection.

But Rob says he can barely hear anymore. And he has a devastating and constant ringing in his ears.

“It always felt like someone off in the background just blowing a whistle, like always and whenever something made a loud noise it got worse it’s a constant ringing that just never seems to go away,” Rob said.

It’s so bad Rob says he has trouble just talking with his family.

“It’s hard when you’re trying to communicate with them. They try to talk and you can’t hear anything,” Rob said.

7 Investigates found the earplug manufacturer settled a lawsuit last year alleging the company sold the military earplugs it knew were dangerously defective and likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss. The company didn’t admit wrongdoing but paid the federal government 9.1 million dollars.

But none of that money went directly to injured vets like Rob.

“It’s extremely frustrating extremely infuriating and everybody’s looking for answers and accountability at this point,” Attorney Mo Aziz said.

Attorney Aziz represents Rob and 3000 other hearing impaired veterans across the country who are filing their own claims.

“These conditions are permanent. There’s no fix for them and so they’re stuck with this for the rest of their lives,” Aziz said.

Now Rob, and other brave service members like him, say they’re forced to fight a different kind of battle: how to live in a world where nothing sounds right.

“It gets frustrating knowing that something that could have been there to help you and it made things worse.” Rob said.

The manufacturer insists the earplugs were not defectively designed. And only settled with the government to avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle. Now the company is planning to defend itself against these new claims.

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