A jury disagreed with Governor Phil Scott about hearing loss--to the tune of $110 million for two US Army veterans
Under orders from this governor thousands of Vermonters are exposed to ear-damaging 115-decibel F-35 training flights
The jury could not have disagreed more. In a statement to Seven Days in July Governor Phil Scott downplayed as mere “concerns” the exposure of thousands of Vermonters to the F-35’s extreme noise, saying the “benefits” were well worth the “costs.” Under orders from this governor thousands of Vermonters are being exposed to 115-decibel F-35 training flights multiple times a day.
The jury’s verdict put a price tag on those “costs.” As reported in the New York Times on Friday, January 28, 2022, the verdict “is the latest decision in a network of hundreds of thousands of lawsuits that accuse 3M of knowingly selling defective earplugs to the military.” Consider just how much money the jury thought the resulting hearing loss was worth to two army veterans. The Times wrote:
A federal jury on Thursday awarded $110 million to two U.S. Army veterans who said they had hearing damage because of combat earplugs produced by the multinational manufacturer 3M.
. . . The two veterans, Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, were each awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
At that rate, hearing damage is not a minor cost. But no amount of money can really compensate for the loss.
Still, calculate how many hundreds of billions of dollars $55 million per person would add up to if each of the 6,663 Vermonters, including 1,300 children, that the Air Force said live in the F-35 noise target zone in Winooski, Burlington, Williston, and S. Burlington got compensated like those two soldiers. (F-35 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Volume I, p. BR4-30, BR4-81).
That number does not even count the many hundreds more Vermonters who go to work or school or day care in that extreme noise zone. Nor does it count the increased risk of dementia that hearing loss can cause, according to a Johns-Hopkins study. And it does not count the damage to learning and cognitive development of children reported by no less an authority than the US Air Force itself in its EIS (Volume II p. C-29). Nor does it count the 30% increased risk of severe stroke and the higher rate of heart attack for people living in a noise zone.
The New York Times article continues:
Bryan F. Aylstock, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said both men had tinnitus and hearing loss that interfered with their daily lives.
“While they are certainly pleased with the verdict and happy that the jury saw through the defenses that 3M tried to put forth, they have to go back to their lives living with these permanent conditions that simply will never go away and will only get worse,” Mr. Aylstock said.
The same permanent hearing damage is being inflicted on thousands of Vermont civilians.
Mr. Sloan and Mr. Wayman both used the earplugs during training and their deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to their lawyers. Mr. Sloan served in the Army from 1994 to 2015, and Mr. Wayman served from 1997 to 2017.
Mr. Aylstock said 3M needlessly put soldiers in harm’s way. “It’s not as though this was a paper clip or a Post-it note, where if it doesn’t work, it’s not a huge deal,” Mr. Aylstock said. “They knew this was going to cause permanent damage to our soldiers.”
Knowingly causing permanent damage: The US Air Force did not pull its punch. The Air Force EIS told the governor that “repeated exposure to military low-altitude flight noise with Lmax greater than 114 decibels” can cause “noise induced hearing loss in humans.” (p. C-25). The US Air Force EIS further reported that the F-35 would expose people on the ground to an Lmax of 115 decibels on takeoff at 1000 feet elevation and to an Lmax of 124 decibels at 500 feet elevation. (p. C-5). The Air Force EIS also reported that “at 130 dB” repeated exposure is not needed: “immediate and permanent hearing damage can result” from a single exposure (p. C-4). All that means that the governor, and every other Vermont political and military leader, knew that the F-35 operating hundreds of training flights a month in cities would cause mass hearing damage.
The governor is the commander in chief. Vermont National Guard training in Vermont is entirely under his command and control. He is the one who orders F-35 training flights from a runway in densely populated Vermont cities. He has the constitutional authority to order a halt to the city-based training. He knows the F-35 training in such a location can hurt and injure thousands of civilians living in the US Air Force designated noise target zone. He knows that hurting and injuring civilians for training violates the military’s own regulations as well as US and Vermont laws. He is obligated to use that constitutional authority to halt the F-35 training in cities. (Art. 1, sec. 8 cl. 16).
But it’s not just the Vermont governor who has a duty to protect 2,963 low income, white working class, BIPOC, and immigrant families in the F-35 noise target zone. With our system of checks and balances, legislative leaders, prosecutors, the congressional delegation, mayors, city councils, and Vermont Air National Guard commanders cannot deny their duty to intervene. To protect Vermonters. To defend the rule of law. To hold the governor to account. All of them are failing, in obsequious subservience to the military industrial complex.
The governor and commanders first tried hiding behind a supposed "federal mission." Clever. But neither the governor nor any commander even tries to say that a federal mission requires the F-35 training to be conducted in cities. The federal mission can, of course, equally be accomplished from a runway remote from populated areas, so no civilian would be hurt or injured.
Even if a federal authority ordered the training to be conducted in Vermont cities—and none does—"just following orders" from higher authority has not been an acceptable reason for hurting civilians since the Nuremberg trial in 1946.
The use of the F-35 for training in cities is illegal under the military’s own rules. It is also immoral and unjust.
Call your lawyer. Tell her or him to use the Vermont Guard's own regulations, Vermont and US laws, and US and Vermont constitutional rights to put a stop to F-35 training in Vermont cities now to protect what is left of your hearing.
And don't stop speaking up. Tell every candidate to campaign vigorously to halt the F-35 training in cities if they want to earn your vote. Use every candidate forum to demand a halt to F-35 training in Vermont cities.
Demand action to halt the F-35 training in cities now. Not just to save the hearing of thousands of Vermonters. Also to avoid potential huge jury verdicts and criminal prosecutions that can never restore the damaged hearing and tinnitus “that simply will never go away and will only get worse.”
Write or call your public servants:
Governor Phil Scott 802-828-3333 Chief of Staff <Jason.Gibbs@vermont.gov>
Vermont National Guard's Complaint Line: 802-660-5379 (Note: the Vermont Guard told a reporter that it received over 1400 noise complaints. But the Guard won’t release what people said).
Instead or in addition, submit your report & complaint to the online F-35 Fall 2021-Winter 2022 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/5d89ckj9
See all the graphs and in-your-own words statements on the recently-completed F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (513 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx.
See links to the graphs and in-your-own words statements on all four versions of the F-35 Report & Complaint Form since Spring 2020, with a total of 1670 responses from 658 different people.
Senator Patrick Leahy 800-642-3193 Chief of Staff <email@example.com>
Senator Bernie Sanders 800-339-9834 <Senator@sanders.senate.gov>
Congressman Peter Welch 888-605-7270 Chief of Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Burlington City Council <email@example.com>
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott <email@example.com>
S. Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Williston Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig <email@example.com>
VT Senate President Becca Balint <firstname.lastname@example.org>
VT House Speaker Jill Krowinski <email@example.com>
Attorney General TJ Donavan <DonovanTJ@gmail.com>
States Attorney Sarah George <Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org>
Vermont’s Federal Prosecutor <email@example.com>
Adjutant General Brig Gen Gregory C Knight <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Major J Scott Detweiler <email@example.com>
Wing Commander Col David Shevchik firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermont National Guard Inspector General Lt. Col. Edward J Soychak <email@example.com>
US Air Force Inspector General Lt. Col. Pamela D. Koppelmann <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall <Frank.Kendall@us.af.mil>