There are two requirements you must meet in order to receive disability insurance benefits: You must be Disabled, and must be Insured for Disability.
Am I Disabled, for Social Security Purposes?
The Social Security Administration has its own definition of disability. You must be unable to perform any type of work, as a result of a physical or mental condition (or combination of conditions, which has lasted, or is expected to last for at least a year.
Am I Insured for Disability?
Disability Insurance Benefits is similar to insurance: it is based on the earnings you had, and the taxes you and your employer have paid in to the system. You must be Insured for Disability, as of the date your disability began.
Your “date last insured” is determined based on your earnings record. You must earn a certain amount in order to receive a “quarter of coverage.” This amount increases with inflation: in 2016 it is $1,260.00. For most persons, you must have 20 or the last 40 quarters of coverage. As an example, if someone worked steadily until the end of the year 2010, their date last insured would be December 31, 2015. If they apply for disability insurance benefits, they would need to prove that their disability began on or before that date.
For younger persons, who become disabled before age 31, the rules are different: you must have quarters of coverage for 1/2 of the time since turning 21. For persons under age 24, you must have at least 6 of the last 12 quarters.
The Social Security Administration can provide you with an earnings record, showing how many quarters of coverage you have.
If you do not have enough earnings to qualify for Disability Insurance Benefits, or the earnings are too remote in time, you may still be able to receive SSI.