Alumni Feature: Issy Diaz ’20, MSW’22 Creates a Lasting Ripple Effect in Veterans’ Lives

by Saundri Luippold

Ismary (Issy) Diaz ’20, MSW ’22, has always approached service with an outpouring of compassion like a waterfall’s abundance. Through her 14 years of military work, earning two degrees in social work at Azusa Pacific University, and now counseling veterans, Diaz’s refreshing spirit flows into countless lives, creating a lasting ripple effect.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Diaz moved to East Los Angeles with her family at 15-years-old. Learning English was a big challenge for Diaz, as well as adjusting to cultural and academic changes. Her determination to face difficulties later became a vital skill which she has carried through every stage of her life. In search of opportunities that would help her grow professionally and personally, Diaz decided to enlist in the army. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, she was called to base training earlier than anticipated. “I was ready to go. I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” she said. Working in human resources, Diaz was stationed in Fort Carson, Colo. From there she was deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, followed by Kuwait and Iraq, before returning to the U.S. at Fort Irwin, Calif. She then served in South Korea, before returning to Germany and Afghanistan.

Diaz served in the National Guard for two years, before going into active duty service, in order to be more present in her daughter’s life. They were both able to live on the base while Diaz was on full time active duty. She ranked as staff sergeant, and while she gained a firm understanding of herself, she grasped an even deeper appreciation of humanity. “Some are appreciative of the sacrifices people make in the military, but oftentimes others assume that we were aware of what we signed up for by enlisting. In reality no one knows what they’re getting into until they’re there,” she said. Diaz fondly looks back at the brotherhood and sisterhood in the military, knowing that the support system surrounding her was stronger than any of her doubts and fears at the time. The biggest lesson she learned was resiliency.

“You don’t realize how necessary resilience is until you have to be strong, bounce back, and keep going. With that, faith has to play a vital role in your life because in chaos it is the one thing that is stable.”

Due to medical reasons, Diaz had to leave the military despite having hoped to serve longer. “That was the most difficult period of my life. I missed coaching, mentoring, and training soldiers. It was all taken away from me,” she said. The hardest part of returning to civilian life was losing the structure the military offered. Diaz was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and spent her first year out of the military focusing on her physical and mental health. For two years she worked in the Department of Labor doing administrative work, but felt unfulfilled.

While seeking to immerse herself in a community again, Diaz was drawn to APU’s loving and enriching education. She started her undergraduate studies in social work in 2017. “APU helped me develop the most important things to me: faith, family, and purpose. God put me in the right place at the right time,” she said. Diaz is especially grateful for the Office of Military and Veterans Services, which helped connect her with other veterans she could relate to. “Returning back from the military can make you feel out of your element, but sharing that experience with others who understand helps build meaningful connections.”

One APU memory Diaz holds close to her heart is her study abroad experience. She went to Costa Rica in the summer with a group of women as a part of her Spanish minor. “The reasons these girls went on the trip were the same reasons I came to APU,” she said. They grew very close, and Diaz recalls being a mother-figure for them, encouraging them to not be afraid to speak Spanish and learn from mistakes.

Diaz’s faith has increased in countless ways. “APU shares God’s love, not just through words, but through actions,” she said. Engaging in service, especially through her time in the Master of Social Work program, expanded Diaz’s understanding of her purpose as a difference maker. As a readjustment counselor with the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Temecula Vet Center, Diaz finds fulfillment in providing counseling services for Veterans, service members and families, connecting them with benefits, sharing resources and encouragement with veterans experiencing the same struggles she went through. “Readjustment counselors help those coming out of service to find their new purpose, and for me, social work is my purpose.”

In the same way that Diaz’s experiences have enhanced her life, shaping her into the courageous woman of God she is today, she pours kindness in every way possible, allowing others to feel refreshed and hopeful. Just like a waterfall, her positive impact continues to flourish.

Saundri Luippold '25 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement. Saundri is double majoring in Honors Humanities and English with a minor in Spanish. She serves as head copy editor of APU's literary journal The West Wind and writes on her personal blog, New Romanticism (