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Ask a Vet
Author: TriSec    Date: 03/30/2021 11:38:07

Good Morning.

There's a number of old issues, some of which have been reported here, that could use a little follow-up this morning.


Let's start in the late 1990s. 3M developed a new type of earplug that allowed low-modulation noise (like voice) to be heard, while at the same time blocking higher modulation sounds (like gunfire). Except - it didn't work.


AUSTIN, Texas – A lawsuit involving more than 229,000 veterans with hearing problems that they claim are linked to faulty earplugs issued by the military begins its first trial Monday in a Florida federal courtroom.

The multidistrict litigation claims the companies that made the earplugs -- 3M and its predecessor Aearo -- knew from testing that the equipment it designed in coordination with the military did not fit properly into an ear canal and could loosen in a way that was imperceptible to the wearer. The suit also claims some of the testing results shown to the military before the purchase were done with a modification to the earplug that the military was not told was required to achieve optimal protection.

Jury selection begins Monday in Pensacola, Fla., for the cases of three veterans who were selected as "bellwether" trials in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida under Judge M. Casey Rogers.

Bellwether trials can be used in multidistrict litigation to present a representative of the cases before a jury to gain useful information for potentially reaching a settlement for all cases. It can help both parties determine the costs of subsequent litigation.

Two of the veterans in the bellwether trials have hearing loss and tinnitus, according to court documents. The third veteran suffers hearing loss and conditions related to it.

Hearing loss and tinnitus, described as a ringing or buzzing in the ears, are the two most common conditions of veterans who are suing, and are also two of the most prevalent service-connected disabilities identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2017, the VA compensated about 1.79 million veterans for tinnitus and about 1.16 million for hearing loss, according to the Hearing Health Foundation, a nonprofit funder of hearing research in America.


Trials usually operate independently of the Presidency, but I have a hard time imagining that this lawsuit would have proceeded under the prior maladministration. A way to sweep this under the rug would have been found.

* * *

I'm sure you heard about Army veteran Lee Wong, of West Chester OH. I find a slight parallel to the far less well known Sgt. Isaac Woodard.


U.S. Army Sgt. Isaac Woodard was traveling home after the war in 1946 when he wanted to relieve himself at a rest stop. The driver at first refused to let him off the bus and later called the cops. A local South Carolina chief of police viciously beat Woodard and caused him to go blind.

It’s important to note that Woodard, 26 at the time, had just been discharged from Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and was wearing his Army uniform when the attack occurred. Woodard and thousands of men like him had put their lives on the line for freedom and were returning to a country where many didn’t want Black soldiers to enjoy all the privileges of service.

The attack made headlines and emotions ramped up even more when Chief Lynwood Shull was acquitted of assault by an all-white jury. The national outrage reached the White House and directly inspired President Harry Truman’s executive order that desegregated the military and federal offices two years later.

The men and women who organized around Woodard’s cause became the backbone of the early civil rights movement and began the fight that led to the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954. That order outlawed segregation in schools and led to the modern fight for civil rights that led to landmark legislation during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.

Woodard, who died in 1992 at the age of 73, may be a little-known figure today, but his struggles led directly to the desegregation of the military.


His is an unknown story that needs to be told; PBS (of course) will be airing a documentary about it on The American Experience; check your local listings.

* * *

Looking back at last year now - do you remember the AAV that sank during training last July? As it turns out, it should have never been in the water, and those men should have never been aboard. While I won't necessarily blame the 35-year-old vehicle (older aircraft routinely fly every day), but there is a failure of command that led directly to those 9 deaths.


When the water sloshing around the inside of the 26-ton Marine Corps assault amphibious vehicle carrying 16 troops reached the tops of the men's boots, the rear crewman was alarmed.

"Where's my staff sergeant?" he asked the dozen infantry Marines and a Navy corpsman riding inside as the AAV headed back to a ship off California's coast.

The crewman grabbed one of the grunts' rifles, sticking the buttstock into the oily water to gauge how deep it was. He knew that once it hit their ankles, they needed to prepare to bail.

"Where's my staff sergeant?" the crewman asked again, sounding more worried than before. The vehicle commander was up in the turret as the AAV hit rougher seas on its way back to the amphibious transport dock Somerset, having left a cove on San Clemente Island's west side.

One of the infantry Marines later recalled telling the crewman to calm down.

"We're going to make it back to the ship," he said. "Just do me a favor and take a deep breath."

***
No single problem caused the AAV to sink that day, one of two investigations into the accident found. (A second investigation conducted by the Naval Safety Center will not be publicly released.) Rather, "a sequence of mechanical failures" contributed, it states. The vehicle, one of more than 800 like it in the Marine Corps' inventory, was built 17 years before the youngest Marine killed in the tragic mishap was born.

Problems that allowed the most significant amounts of water to seep into the vehicle included faulty seals on a plenum grill at the front of the vehicle, which controls airflow, and a wrongly installed headlight.

There were no safety boats in the water, which goes against Navy and Marine Corps policies. Unit leaders also failed to ensure their Marines completed egress training, which teaches them to get out of a sinking vehicle or aircraft, before their amphibious vehicle left a Navy ship for a morning raid exercise.

Most of the infantry Marines had only ridden in one of the tracked vehicles on land, never in water. Eight of the nine killed in the accident had only been trained to get out of the vehicle in shallow water, the investigation found. The Marines also weren't given a standard safety briefing that's supposed to occur anytime an AAV heads into the water. That briefing would've helped familiarize them with escape hatches and other protocols.


Training accidents are a part of life in the military. But this one shouldn't have happened.

* * *

Finally - one for the history buffs. This one happened not very far from where I sit. While you might not know about it, it's part of New England seafaring lore.
















 

5 comments (Latest Comment: 03/30/2021 23:52:01 by Will in Chicago)
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